This Week in Lincoln: Hearings Begin

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January 25th, 2019

Each Friday morning, the KVNO News website will provide a recap of Fred Knapp’s updates on the Nebraska Legislature for NET News. These stories run daily on 90.7 FM at 7 a.m. and 12 p.m., but in case you missed them, here they are again:

FRIDAY, JAN. 18 – A briefing addressing overcrowding in Nebraska prisons was held on the eighth day of the Legislature.

Corrections Director Scott Frakes testified that he believes Nebraska will not reduce its prison population to a threshold set by state law. The requirement stipulates state prisons must hold no more than 40 percent more prisoners than they were designed to; currently, they are about 56 percent above capacity.

If the state is unsuccessful in getting prisons below that limit, the Parole Board will have to start considering releasing more people. Frakes said his department is working to make people eligible for parole earlier and asked senators to approve his budget request.

Among legislation introduced Jan. 18 included updated record-keeping requirements for pet shops and an adjustment to the way the state handles redistricting after the 2020 census.

TUESDAY, JAN. 22 – Proposals to include the words “In God We Trust” in Nebraska classrooms and requirement of rental inspections were two points of discussion on the ninth day of the session.

Sen. Steve Erdman introduced the school proposal, arguing that the motto did not advocate a particular god but promoted belief in something. He believes students should have “faith in something.”

Sen. Justin Wayne’s proposal involves increased rental inspections of Omaha and Lincoln properties, inspired by conditions discovered at an Omaha apartment complex last September described by one observer as “the worst living conditions I have ever seen in my life.”

The legislation requires inspections for rental units every three years. Currently, inspections are only triggered by complaints. Opponents of the bill include landlords and city officials; the latter want to handle matters locally rather than at a state level.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 23 – A proposed rule change that would make the vote for committee chairs public, rather than by secret ballot, was rejected on the tenth day of the session.

“There should be no secrets,” Sen. Mike Groene said. “Who you vote for chairman, you should be proud of. Who you vote for speaker, you should be proud of, and you should be able to defend it, not only with your colleagues but also with your constituents.”

Opponents argued this would lead to increased partisanship and “chairmanships for sale,” as in other states. The proposal was rejected 25-22.

The Revenue Committee also held a public hearing on legislation by Sen. Tony Vargas, which would lower income taxes for some couples with incomes less than $75,000 but raise them on those above $200,000. A further increase would be seen on those above $1 million.

The bill could raise an estimated $100 million, which Vargas said could counter the need for budget cuts.

THURSDAY, JAN. 24 – A proposal by Sen. Tom Brewer asking the State Patrol to study how to better investigate the problem of missing Native American was the subject of a hearing on the session’s eleventh day.

Multiple studies have found a disproportionate amount of violence against Native American women as compared to the general population. Brewer suggested a lack of communication between tribal police and government agencies at multiple levels could be hindering investigations into these missing women.

Under the proposal, the State Patrol would be required to coordinate with tribes and the federal government and report back to the Legislature by June 2020.

Sen. LouAnn Linehan introduced legislation, backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, to give donors a dollar-for-dollar credit against their income taxes for a scholarship fund to help students go to private or religious schools. Opponents have argued – when similar legislation was introduced previously – that this will divert resources from public to private schools.

As well as keeping up with the legislature through daily updates, you can also watch the Nebraska Legislature live on NET World.

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