Trafficking victims would not be prosecuted for prostitution; helmets, prop taxes discussed


March 17th, 2016

Sen. Robert Hilkemann, left, debates Sen. Dave Bloomfield, right, on motorcycle helmets (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Sen. Robert Hilkemann, left, debates Sen. Dave Bloomfield, right, on motorcycle helmets (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

People would not be prosecuted for prostitution if they could show they were victims of human trafficking under a bill advancing in the Nebraska Legislature.

Senators also debated a new wrinkle on repealing the state’s helmet law. And they scheduled a public hearing next week on a proposal to help farmers and ranchers with their property taxes.

Three years ago, the Legislature passed a law giving juveniles immunity from prosecution for prostitution. This year’s proposal, by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, would extend that immunity to people of any age, if they can show they are victims of human trafficking. Pansing Brooks said the rationale is the same: as a practical matter, it’s hard to help someone escape prostitution, even if they want to get out, if they are subject to arrest.

Pansing Brooks said while many Nebraskans are surprised that trafficking is a problem in this state, it is. “Law enforcement agencies agree that the existence of Interstate 80 coupled with internet sex advertising and the proximity of the casinos across the river makes Nebraska especially vulnerable to human trafficking. There is plenty of evidence that trafficking is a common occurrence at events like the College World Series, Nebraska football weekends, the state fair and even the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meetings,” she said.

Sen. Burke Harr, a former prosecutor, opposed the change. Harr said people need to be to be encouraged to leave prostitution. “We have to have a motivating incentive factor, whether that’s bottoming out by getting arrested or whatever it is. But I can’t vote for a bill that I personally think has the unintended consequence of encouraging prostitution. Because we have now made prostitution legal,” Harr declared.

Pansing Brooks, herself a lawyer, sarcastically dismissed Harr’s argument. “I had someone ask me off the mic if you can still arrest for prostitution. Gloriously, you still can. You can go and arrest a person for prostitution if you do not believe they are being trafficked. Have at it,” she said.

Senators then voted 32-0 to give the bill first-round approval.

Also Wednesday, senators began debating the latest in a long series of proposals to repeal Nebraska’s decades-old requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets. This year’s version contains a new wrinkle: it would raise annual motorcycle registration fees from the current $6 to $25, with proceeds going for motorcycle safety education and to treat brain injuries.

Sen. Dave Bloomfield urged his colleagues to support his proposal. “The Declaration of Independence says ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ not ‘conformity, control, and a safe cocoon.’ I hope we can put ‘the sky will fall if we repeal the helmet law’ medley behind us and move forward, restoring freedom and helping those who truly need help,” Bloomfield said.

Sen. Robert Hilkemann opposed the bill, filing numerous amendments to filibuster against it and force supporters to come up with a two-thirds majority to proceed. Hilkemann cited the experience of his mother, who took up riding motorcycles in her sixties and is about to turn 100, who he said was watching on TV.

“She didn’t get to be 100 by being dumb. She always wore her motorcycle helmet. So Mom, I say good afternoon to you, and I thank you that you raised us with good common sense,” Hilkemann said.

Senators adjourned for the day without reaching a first-round vote on the bill.

And the Revenue Committee endorsed a plan to give farmers and ranchers property tax credits worth in the range of $25 million to $30 million. The new credits would be added to an existing credit every property owner gets, and would show up on statements later this year. Owners of residential and commercial property would get the same amount of credit they got last year.

Asked where the money for farmers and ranchers would come from, Revenue Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Gloor replied “Dunno. Might come from (LB)1013, but that’s still in committee.” LB1013 is Gloor’s proposal to raise cigarette taxes from the current 64 cents a pack to $2.14.

Gloor had a similar answer when asked if there’s still time to pass the bill this year. “Dunno. Clock’s ticking. We’re trying to move as rapidly as we can with an important bill and with procedural requirements that would require another hearing,” he said.

That hearing has been scheduled for next Thursday, March 24, at 2 p.m. in the Capitol.

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