New bills: Proposal outlines rules for restrictive housing in Nebraska prisons

New bills: Proposal outlines rules for restrictive housing in Nebraska prisons

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A prisons bill offered up on the last day of the 10-day period to introduce legislation would carve out rules for putting inmates in restrictive housing or solitary confinement. 

And it would ban double bunking in those situations. 

The bill (LB1208), introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, would limit a prisoner's time in restrictive housing to not more than 15 consecutive days. 

The Department of Correctional Services would not be allowed to put an inmate in restrictive housing for more than 90 days in a calendar year. Evidence would have to be presented to keep an inmate in restrictive housing for a longer period.

The bill also would regulate out-of-cell time, requiring four to six hours per day, depending on the amount of time a person has been in restricted confinement.  

And it would require the department director to share up-to-date electronic records with the Nebraska Ombudsman and the office of Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System. Those records would include intelligence and reports by department employees, excluding information shared by law enforcement.

Placement in long-term restrictive housing would have to be periodically reviewed by the department, which would also have to ensure those in long-term confinement have access to mental health treatment and clinical programming.

The bill bans double bunking, the practice of putting two inmates in a single restrictive housing cell for any period of time. Double bunking is believed to have been a factor in the 2017 death of Terry Berry, 22, at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. He was found unconscious on the floor with a towel around his neck in the cell he shared with Patrick Schroeder. He was taken to a Lincoln hospital, where he died five days later.

It would also disallow discharging an inmate from long-term restrictive housing directly into the community, and would require giving them at least 120 days to transition from restrictive housing to the community.

Other bills introduced on Thursday:

* BRAND COMMITTEE: The Nebraska Brand Committee would move under the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. The bill (LB1165) from Sen. John Stinner of Gering would retain cattle producers’ rights to own and use registered brands, but would remove the inspection requirement.

* OPEN MEETINGS: Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston introduced a bill (LB1167) requiring public bodies to allow members of the public to speak during open meetings.

* TEACHER INJURIES: Teachers injured by another person while working would be entitled to take injury leave and be paid their full salary for up to seven days, according to a proposal (LB1186) from Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers. Schools would also be required to report to the state how many incidents resulted in injury and the number of injury leave days taken.

* FLOOD PLANNING: In the wake of historic flooding in 2019, Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard introduced a bill (LB1201) to create the Flood Mitigation and Planning Task Force in order to develop a statewide flood mitigation plan. The adjutant general of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, or their designee, would chair the task force.

* PRIVATE SCHOOL SCHOLARSHIPS: Taxpayers who contribute to an organization providing scholarships for students to attend private schools could receive a tax credit equal to their contribution, a bill (LB1202) from Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn states. Only children who qualify for free and reduced lunch would be eligible to receive a scholarship.

* REDISTRICTING COMMITTEE: The chair and vice chair of the Legislature’s Redistricting Committee would need to receive the support of two-thirds of the committee membership, under a bill (LB1207) from Omaha Sen. John McCollister. His bill would set redistricting rules, including that new boundaries would be drawn without consideration of political affiliation or voting history.

* H3 (HIGH WAGE, HIGH SKILL, HIGH DEMAND) JOBS: Workers in high-demand jobs who move to underserved areas of the state could qualify for a monthly stipend from the state for up to 24 months under a bill (LB1216) from Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas. The proposal would require those employees to live and work in areas of the state losing population for four years.

* RULES FOR HEMP: New rules for hemp operations, transportation and sale are included in Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne’s bill (LB1219). They include notifying law enforcement before more than 1 pound of hemp is transported, allowing cities, villages or counties to adopt their own hemp regulations and restricting possession of hemp to those over 21.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature

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