Gun bill heard, abortion bill revived, rules discussed in Legislature


February 11th, 2017

Sen. Mike Hilgers, right, testifies before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Nebraska cities would be prohibited from enacting stricter gun laws than those allowed by the state, under a bill heard Friday by a legislative committee. An abortion measure that was killed has been revived. And the Legislature once again debated the rules that govern it.

Lincoln, NE – Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln is chief sponsor of the gun bill, which would prohibit Nebraska cities from enacting ordinances on transporting or possessing guns. Hilgers said he wants to prevent gun owners from unknowingly being trapped by a patchwork of local regulations.

“If you live in Lincoln, as I do, you do not have to register your firearm, if you own one. Omaha, however, requires you to register a firearm, if you own one,” Hilgers said. “Therefore, if you drive from Lincoln to Omaha, then the moment – the very moment — you cross the city limits you are in violation of Omaha’s ordinance, at the risk of a charge on your record, a fine of up to $500, potential imprisonment up to six months, and the loss of your firearm.”

Among those supporting the bill was Chris Kopacki of the National Rifle Association, who said he’d talked to a lot of people about the need for the bill.

“One such conversation involved a person that spends time here in Lincoln during the week and keeps a gun in their car when they’re traveling, which many people do for self-protection or to go hunting on some down time. Sometimes they park their car for an extended period of time with a gun locked in the trunk,” Kopacki related.

“They were very concerned to learn that they are breaking the law in Lincoln if it’s left in their car for more than 24 hours. Again, they could be an accidental criminal for breaking a law that does not exist in their hometown.”

A long parade of opponents said the bill would preempt important local protections. Amanda Gailey of Nebraskans against Gun Violence gave the example of a law in Lincoln that prohibits bringing guns into domestic violence shelters. “We’re supposed to wipe out protections everyone in this room benefits from because a minority, fringe, ideologically-driven group of people are so fetishizing their guns that they think all public safety needs to be in service to that hobby of theirs,” Gailey complained.

Sgt. Aaron Hanson of the Omaha Police opposed the bill on behalf of the Omaha Police Officers Association. Hanson said it makes sense to allow different gun laws in different places.

“Driving down a dirt road with a loaded AR15 in your lap, while never advisable, might be more understandable for the keen-eyed rancher on the lookout for calf-killing coyotes, but that same activity would be a huge concern on a road in Omaha and especially on a stretch of road with a history of homicides or shootings,” Hanson said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Meanwhile, a bill requiring abortion providers to provide a link on their websites to a state website featuring pictures of fetal development has been revived. The bill was originally introduced by Sen. Bill Kintner. Kintner resigned last month following furor over his retweeting a tweet that some interpreted as joking about sexual assault.

Last week, when no other senator stepped forward to sponsor the bill, the Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to kill it. But Thursday afternoon, after Sen. John Murante said he would pick it up, the committee reversed itself and voted 4-3 to revive it. A public hearing on the proposal is expected to be held in late March.

And debate in the full Legislature Friday was dominated again, as it has been recently, by a fight over whether or not to make it easier for a legislative majority to end filibusters against bills by a legislative minority.

Among those arguing for that idea was Sen. Steve Erdman, who used a metaphor that’s cropped up earlier in the debate. “There are things you do when you win – you win with dignity and grace — and also when you lose — you pull up your big boy pants and move on. So it’s time for us to quit whining about losing on the first day or whatever we might be doing,” Erdman said.

“We put a smokescreen up that we’re talking about the budget and we’re so concerned about congeniality and we’re going to get along. And we’re nonpartisan,” Erdman continued. “We’ve always been partisan ever since this body was formed and we always will be. Let’s just face it head on and get on with what we need to do.

The pants metaphor was too much for Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks. “I know it’s a colloquialism, but I do rise every day as a strong powerful woman. I don’t put on any kind of big boy pants. Just wanted to point that little part out,” she said.

And Pansing Brooks went on to say the fight over the rules is not over. “These are important discussions, Nebraska. I know that the rules doesn’t deal with all the important things that you’ve elected us to come and do here. But if the minority voters are continuing to have their rights trampled then we will stand up and continue to fight for those rights,” she said.

Once again, lawmakers adjourned without adopting permanent rules. The rules fight has occupied so much time this session that lawmakers have not passed a single bill. By this time in the last long session, two years ago, they had passed 9, largely minor technical measures. But with nearly one-third of the session gone, the backlog of measures building up makes it likely many will not be debated if the rules fight is not resolved soon.

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