Paul Fell

Despite the headlines, it wasn’t all controversy for the 105th Legislature First Session. Some pretty necessary things were discussed and passed by lawmakers before they left Lincoln last month.

Senators adopted a resolution (LR127) offered by Omaha Senator Bob Krist to create a new Nebraska Justice System Special Oversight Committee. The committee will continue work already done on issues involving the Nebraska Department of Corrections and review the role of state agencies in their involvement with the justice system. The committee will not have investigative or subpoena powers. It will be led by Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Laura Ebke of Crete.

A prior investigative committee had studied the circumstances surrounding the incarceration and release of Omaha inmate Nikko Jenkins who subsequently murdered four people in Omaha within weeks of his release. That committee also looked at the administration of good time laws, segregation and the availability of programs. Krist rightfully pointed out that issues such as staffing, overcrowding, mental and behavioral health and restrictive housing continue to plague the department.

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O’Neill Senator Tyson Larson opposed the resolution and called on his colleagues to have patience and faith in Department Director Scott Frakes who also spoke in opposition to the proposal at a meeting of the Legislature’s Executive Committee.

It's not a lack of faith that caused the Legislature to do the right thing by approving the committee. Patience has obviously run thin.

One of the session’s Christmas Trees (a bill to which several similar measures are attached) was from the Education Committee (LB512) drafted to make technical changes to education law. Along the way, the measure – which was intended to restrict a levy limit exemption for teachers’ voluntary termination agreements – picked up several other education-related provisions.

The Coordinating Commission on Postsecondary Education will be allowed to assess a fee on for-profit post-secondary institutions in the state and direct the proceeds to a cash fund, under a proposal from Lincoln Senator Patty Pansing Brooks. This will allow the commission to receive, evaluate and pay claims to students to recover lost tuition and fees resulting from the closure of such an institution.

Technology companies that contract with schools will be prohibited from using student data for targeted advertising or creating student profiles for non-educational purposes under a measure from Lincoln Senator Adam Morfeld. Start-up or expansion of summer food programs through schools would be facilitated by allowing the schools to spend the full grant amount under a measure offered by Senator Lynne Walz of Fremont.

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Omaha Senator Justin Wayne’s measure requires that someone currently certified in first aid, CPR and drowning risk prevention be present at every swimming pool owned, rented, leased or otherwise used by a school district for practice, competition or other school function.

Sometimes it’s the parts and pieces that are just as important as the original whole.

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A second Christmas tree involved a number of measures increasing penalties for crimes such as pandering and human trafficking for labor or sexual exploitation.

As introduced by Lincoln Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, the bill increases penalties for pandering or trafficking an adult from a Class III to a Class II felony punishable by 1 to 50 years in prison. In offenses involving a minor, the penalty goes from a Class II felony to a Class IB punishable by 20 years to life in prison. The definition of sex trafficking also is updated to include solicitation.

Three additional bills dealing with sexual assault and domestic violence were also included. One prohibits the withdrawal of a petition for a protection order except upon order of the court. A victim of domestic abuse can file a petition and affidavit to renew a protection order up to 30 days before the expiration of the previous order and a renewed order will be effective for a period of one year.

Victims of sexual assault can file for civil protection orders against the perpetrator. That order will prohibit a perpetrator from contacting or communicating with the victim. Finally, the parent of a child conceived as a result of a sexual assault can petition for termination of parental rights of the perpetrator.

Nice to know that beyond the headline grabbing drama, unpleasant, but necessary issues were addressed.

J.L. Schmidt is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association. He has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered independent for 18 years.

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