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I introduced LB 793 before the Judiciary Committee this past week, at the request of the Nebraska Attorney General’s office and county sheriffs. Currently, our statutes don’t prohibit the introduction of contraband into a jail, other than something that is useful for escape. LB 793 retains the prohibition on implements for escape but expands it to include other items considered to be contraband that have no place in a prison, jail or other detention center, such as controlled substances, weapons, explosive materials, cell phones and metal files. Under current law, an inmate may possess any number of items without fear of facing more than in-house discipline. The person providing the inmate with such contraband, can’t be punished for any offense, other than possibly losing their visiting privileges. This poses a risk to the inmate, other inmates, and especially the detention facility staff.
LB 793 also amends the statutes pertaining to the assault of an officer, emergency responders, and certain employees to specifically include county jailers and juvenile corrections officers. The need for the change in assault statutes became clear two years ago when a juvenile corrections officer was assaulted and murdered by a juvenile inmate in a western Nebraska juvenile detention facility. Since the “Assault on Officer” statutes don’t clearly cover juvenile corrections officers, had the employee not died, the inmate could not have been charged with an enhanced penalty and would have been charged with a lesser crime based on the level of injury of the employee.
I also introduced LB 952 before the Health and Human Services Committee. It recognizes that efficient and reliable statewide out-of-hospital emergency medical care is a primary and essential service. It also requires county boards to ensure the availability of emergency medical services to its residents. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the counties will be managing or paying for such services, as this requirement could be met through arrangements with existing providers.
If a local community finds it must quit providing EMS, due to recruitment problems, a surrounding town may generously decide to expand their services to provide residents with protection. However, these other locations shouldn’t have to be responsible for this.
In 2004, in their Five-Year Report to the Legislature, The Nebraska Board of Emergency Medical Services stated that although the citizens of the State have benefitted from a largely volunteer EMS system for many years, there is no statutory requirement for the provision of those services. If EMS systems fail, a crisis could occur with no governmental responsibility to ensure the provision of services.
I realize this is a controversial issue, as it could have a financial impact on counties. However, I felt that it was time to start a serious conversation on county oversight of emergency medical services.
Furthermore, LB 952 alters the make-up of the Board of Emergency Medical Services. Currently, the 17-member board is only required to have one member who is a volunteer emergency medical care provider. My proposal would increase the number of volunteers to 3 on the board, ensuring better representation in rural Nebraska.
Debate on the floor this week centered on LB 188, which was the bill I introduced to define “innocent third party” in police pursuits. After surviving a cloture vote on General File, LB 188 fell two votes short of the necessary 33 votes on the cloture motion on Select File. Consequently, the bill will not be debated again. Since the Legislature had not defined the term “innocent third party”, the courts had judicially done so, leading one Supreme Court judge to suggest that the Legislature might want to narrow the court’s definition, as he didn’t think that some of the persons qualifying for $1 million in damages as an innocent third party were what the Legislature intended, such as a passenger in the fleeing vehicle with meth on him and drinking from an open container of beer. However, a number of attorneys in the Legislature didn’t support the recommendations from the Supreme Court judge.
As we continue to debate bills that have been prioritized, I encourage your input. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
Nebraska is the only state in the country which imposes strict liability for law enforcement motor vehicle pursuits on a law enforcement agency even when it is the driver of the vehicle being pursued that causes injury to an “innocent third party”. This means that this liability is imposed even if the law enforcement agency is not in any way negligent in its pursuit and follows to the letter the motor vehicle pursuit policy that all law enforcement agencies in Nebraska are required by statute to have in place.
This law, written by Senator Ernie Chambers, was passed some 30 years ago, in an effort to protect an “innocent third party” who is injured due to a police pursuit. In the debate at that time, Senator Chambers spoke of compensation for parties who were not involved in the chase, such as innocent bystanders and persons in other vehicles that might be hit by the fleeing vehicle. I don’t believe that anyone would have envisioned how the law has evolved over time.
Since the Legislature did not define “innocent third party” for purposes of the strict liability pursuit law, the courts have judicially constructed a definition. However, in a recent lawsuit, the Nebraska Supreme Court held that a passenger in a fleeing vehicle, who was drinking from an open container of beer and was in possession of methamphetamine, was nonetheless still an innocent party. As a result, the self-insurance pool for the counties had to pay $1 million in damages. This holding caused one Supreme Court judge to issue a separate opinion, where he stated that he doubted that most members of the Legislature would characterize such a passenger in a vehicle fleeing from law enforcement as an innocent third party. However he concurred with the final result of the court because the Legislature had not replaced the court’s definition with one of its own. He went on to emphasize that the Legislature has the power to change the result in a future case by narrowing the definition of “innocent third party”.
After this lawsuit, a local county commissioner and deputy sheriff contacted me and asked if the law could be changed. As a result, I introduced legislation. LB 188, which defines “innocent third party”, was debated for six hours over the last two weeks. I offered a motion to invoke cloture, which received 37 votes, 4 more than required. This cut off debate, allowing for a vote to be taken on the advancement of the bill, which was also successful.
LB 188 does not change the law relating to bystanders or for persons in other vehicles. It only affects passengers in the fleeing vehicle and only under certain circumstances such as if they are sought to be apprehended by law enforcement or if they have engaged in conduct chargeable as a felony, which for the most part have been spelled out through case law.
Over the years, the number of police pursuits has decreased significantly, which is good. However, law enforcement still need this option in certain circumstances. LB 188 will give the court some standards to consider in determining whether a passenger in a fleeing vehicle is really an “innocent third party” and therefore eligible for automatic recovery of up to $1 million in taxpayer money.
LB 188 was not designated as a priority bill and may be the last bill that is debated this year without priority status. Next week is the deadline for designation of priority bills. After that date, typically only bills with priority status or bills that are non-controversial and eligible for consent calendar, are placed on the agenda.
I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on legislation being debated by senators or if you have questions on any bills. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
A good portion of this past week was spent debating the death penalty. LB 543 would change the maximum penalty for first degree murder in Nebraska from death to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Senator Ernie Chambers introduced similar legislation for more than 30 years until he left the Legislature in 2008. Back after a four-year break due to term limits, he again took up his fight to repeal the death penalty.
After eight hours of debate, Senator Chambers made a motion to invoke cloture, which immediately shuts off debate and allows a vote to be taken on the advancement of the bill. A cloture motion requires 33 votes. The motion fell short on a vote of 28-21. After an unsuccessful cloture motion, the bill is pulled from the agenda. It will not be debated again this year.
There are currently 11 people on Nebraska’s death row, including two who were sentenced to death for murders committed in Richardson County. The last execution in Nebraska was in 1997. In 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the electric chair as the sole means of imposing the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The Legislature passed legislation in 2009 to change the method of executing the death penalty to lethal injection. The state has experienced difficulty in obtaining the lethal drugs, as pharmaceutical companies don’t want their products associated with executions. Thirty-two states, the U.S. Government, and the U.S. Military impose the death penalty.
Those opposing the death penalty emphasize the high cost, citing statistics that show the average number of appeals filed by someone on death row is 7.76 compared to 1.64 by those sentenced to life, with the average length of an appeal lasting more than 13 years for those on death row compared with almost 6 years for those sentenced to life in prison. Furthermore, the cost of a death penalty case is approximately $3 million compared to the cost of a life without parole case of just over $1 million. Opponents also emphasize the arbitrary nature of administering the death penalty.
Although no longer in the majority in the Legislature, but of sufficient number to block a vote on the advancement of the bill, senators supporting the death penalty argue that cost estimates are overstated and that the death penalty is an important and necessary factor in the sentencing process. They believe that it serves as a deterrent, especially for those already serving a life sentence. Proponents point out that the death penalty is reserved for those committing the most heinous of crimes. Statistics show that it is only sought in approximately 7% of all murders and actually imposed in less than 1%.
The Governor handed down his first veto of this session, returning LB 553 without his signature and with his objections. This legislation sought to address the shortfall in the school retirement plan. The Governor objected to the increase in the state contribution rate and felt that the long-term revisions should be studied further before implementing the changes. After some senators criticized the Governor for his absence when the Retirement Committee was studying this issue, the Legislature voted to override his veto on a 32-1 vote.
During these last several weeks of the legislative session, I still encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on the issues before us. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.