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April 12th, 2017

Spring has sprung outside the Nebraska State Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

A proposal to preempt most local gun regulations advanced Wednesday in the Legislature. But an attempt to require juveniles have lawyers when they go to court anywhere in the state got bogged down.


Lincoln, NE – The gun proposal by Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln would preempt most local gun ordinances passed by cities and towns around Nebraska. Hilgers says the idea is to have uniform state laws, not a patchwork of local ordinances.

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld opposed the bill, saying it would preempt local ordinances and rules that prohibit guns in places like Lincoln’s Pinnacle Bank arena.

“This also has a real economic impact. For instance, Billy Joel who recently came to Lincoln, would not have come to Lincoln unless we had a prohibition on firearms and had metal detectors in Pinnacle Bank Arena. We would not be able to enforce that. We would not be able to offer that clause in the contract. That act  would have not come,” Morfeld said.

Hilgers argued such a ban could still be enforced under trespassing laws. But he offered to work on an amendment to make that clear before the second stage of debate, known as select file.

“What Sen. Morfeld says LB68 does I do not believe is correct,” Hilgers said. “But to make certain on some of these concerns, given how seriously we do take public safety, I’m willing to consider an amendment on select file that would address that.”

With no votes to spare, senators voted 33-8 to end a filibuster against the bill, then voted 32-12 first round advancement. It would still require two more votes to be sent to the governor.

On another subject, lawmakers gave first-round approval to a bill that would guarantee bondholders are first in line for payment if a city declares bankruptcy. Supporters like Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, sponsor of the bill, said it was necessary to assure payments to people who lend money to cities, in order to keep interest rates low. Opponents including Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell said bondholders should be paid, but only after others like pension holders.

Also Wednesday, an attempt to guarantee juveniles will have lawyers when they appear in court throughout the state got bogged down. The proposal was sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks. Last year, she sponsored a similar bill, which was ultimately amended to cover only counties with populations over 150,000 – in other words, Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy Counties.

Wednesday, Pansing Brooks argued that produced an arbitrary result.

“Under our current law kids have counsel appointed at the time of petition statewide if they are under 14. But if a child is between the ages of 15 and 18, they only have counsel appointed if they live in a town with a population of 150,000 or more,” Pansing Brooks said. “This arbitrary and inconsistent right to counsel makes no logical sense. It’s justice by geography and by age.”

Juveniles have the right to counsel statewide, but outside the three largest counties, they can also decline it; the bill would require counsel. Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango called that unnecessary.

“I’m certainly not hearing that there’s a problem from my district. I want to give credit to Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks for her passion on this issue. It’s rightly deserved. But for her district, in the metropolitan area, I have no doubt that the volume that’s coming before the juvenile system needs to be handled differently than what it is in the rural parts of the state – in greater Nebraska,” Hughes said.

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, a lawyer who practices in juvenile court, said juveniles need lawyers because they face serious consequences if they plead guilty to seemingly minor offenses.

“You can’t even work at Burger King, taking cash, if you get a theft charge. If you’re 16 years old and you get a weed charge – a marijuana charge, you potentially cannot be able to get Pell grants and federal funding because of that charge,” Wayne said

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte charged there was an economic motive behind the bill.

“This is a lawyer employment bill, folks. That’s what this is. That’s all it is. The juveniles are taken care of. They’re given justice.  Children make mistakes. Teenagers revolt. It’s handled, and we go on with our lives,” Groene said.

After three hours of debate, senators adjourned for the day without reaching a first-round vote. That means the bill will stay off the agenda unless supporters say they have a two-thirds majority to overcome a filibuster.

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