Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 4th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Robert Hilkemann
We all know our immigration system is broken. Who knows when or if it will ever be properly repaired. Our president, through an administrative memorandum, did allow some unauthorized immigrants to lawfully work through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This is a defined population that consists of young people most of whom were brought here by their parents. Many of them are working toward becoming citizens.
These young people have been in our public schools and colleges. As a result of the DACA program, these young people are given lawful presence and employment authorization, which means they can work legally and pay taxes on those earnings. If these young people go into careers that require state licensure, our state currently denies them licenses based on their immigration status.
What LB947 did was allow these young people who have the necessary skills and education to at least apply for a license or certification.
A recurring theme I have heard from businesses is they have difficulty finding employees. That is why our Chambers of Commerce, the Nebraska Cattleman’s Association, and even Mayor Stothert, believe that we need to increase and improve our employee base.
If LB947 becomes law, these young people can be licensed as stylists, teachers, CPA’s, pharmacy techs, or any other profession for which they are qualified that requires state licensure (more than 170 different careers). If these young people chose to go into any one of these careers, and we don’t grant them licenses, they must leave our state to find gainful employment in their profession. It makes sense to me that if we are going to grant them lawful presence and allow them to work, then we should allow them to work in careers that will let them earn more and generate more tax dollars. Even more importantly, not utilizing them to their full potential is a waste of human capital. This will allow many of them to work at jobs that offer health care benefits. They can begin to save for retirement and they will generate more spending capital in Nebraska.
An amendment was added on Select File which specifically clarifies that no public benefits other than commercial or professional licensure will be extended to such immigrants. The measure also specifies that if they lose their authorization to work because the DACA program is terminated, their licenses will be revoked – our state closely monitors these licenses and most need to be renewed annually or bi-annually.
I believe Emily Nohr’s article in the OWH covers the issue well.
On this 12th day of the 60 day session, we are debating carry over bills in the morning while the 446 newly introduced bills are being referred to the appropriate committees for afternoon hearings. I certainly feel more confident in the process as I represent District 4 constituents. My committee assignment continues to be vice-chair of Appropriations.
I have introduced five bills this short session. LB 804 creates the Investigational Drug Use Act. This Act is also termed “Right to Try.” The bill allows eligible patients to be treated with any drug that has completed phase I of a clinical trial but has not yet been approved for general use by the USFDA.
LB 964 would allow reservists who have been elevated to active duty for purposes of training to be considered veterans and able to have that notation on their state driver’s license or state ID card.
LB 927 would allow Douglas County to increase the surcharge allowed to all other counties to upgrade 911 services.
LB 1054 would change provisions of the present DNA laws to allow collection of DNA upon felony arrest. Nebraska currently collects DNA from those convicted of certain crimes.
LB 1091 would appropriate $25 million to the Department of Economic Development for site infrastructure to be competitive in attracting new businesses to Nebraska.
I will discuss these bills in more detail in future columns.
My next Hy-Vee cafe meeting will be 9-10 a.m., Saturday, February 20th, at 132nd & Dodge. Come for conversation about state issues.
The One Hundred Fourth Legislature, First Session, completed work today, one day short of the allowed 90 days. For new and experienced senators and staff, it was historical and controversial.
There will be few readers of this column who are not aware of LB 268, to replace death penalty provisions with a life sentence.
I voted to advance LB 268 through three rounds of debate. A fourth vote was required to override Governor Rickett’s veto. My earlier thoughts on this issue are part of this column, printed April 17th, 2015.
My resolve to vote with the majority of the body was sorely tested as the day became a reality. My staff, along with all others in the building, had their hands full trying to keep track of the numerous emails and phone calls as well as personal visits to the office. The attorney general and the governor both came to my office. They pled for four more years to make the death penalty work.
I had to weigh my constituents’ wishes with facts about the efficacy of the death penalty as it was or was not being administered in Nebraska. The last use of the death penalty, by electrocution, was 1997. Eleven men remained on death row, with one dying last weekend. Those ten will now, according to prison officials, be returned to non-segregated housing in the prison system. What will happen to their sentences remains in the legal system.
My commitment to repealing the death penalty still stems from basic facts contained in these two articles:
Some have said repealing the death penalty makes Nebraska soft on crime. A retired Lincoln police captain is quoted as saying, “it means we are smart on crime.” He also said we should invest the money wasted on the death penalty in tools our law enforcement officers really need.
The vote was not Republican, Democrat, conservative, or liberal. It was a vote to do the right thing. The repeal has been introduced since 1973. There may not be another chance. I stand by my vote.
The death penalty is a rarely used punishment we reserve for the most heinous of crimes. One hundred and forty countries around the world have banned it. The United States is only one of 58 countries that still permits its use.
Growing up on a farm in Northeast Nebraska, the only time I recall ever locking our doors was when Charles Starkweather was on his rampage. My parents didn’t even want us walking the two miles home from school now that was serious. I remember feeling relieved when he was arrested. He was electrocuted soon after. That was my first recollection of talking about capital punishment. Should he be sent to the electric chair? It created great debate on street corners, school, and church.
Over the years I have never thought much about the death penalty, except when it is debated at church or around the family table. My stand has been that we should keep it for the most heinous of crimes or for killing law enforcement officers. My denomination, Presbyterian, has called for the elimination of the death penalty long ago.
During my campaign only a few people asked my position on capital punishment and I answered – only for the most heinous crimes. In an interview with KETV, I was taken by surprise that it was one of the questions they asked me since it had not been an issue during the campaign.
Last summer, a representative of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty called and asked if I would meet with her. I had already made up my mind on how I felt about the death penalty, but agreed to meet with her. She shared a touching personal story and then added a few facts I didn’t know. It isn’t a deterrent and because of all the appeals process, it costs more to put someone to death than to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives with no chance of parole. As a result, people who commit crimes in larger counties are more likely to be executed than people from smaller counties. Additionally, with DNA evidence, some people have been exonerated from death row. I remember leaving that meeting thinking I need to study my position more.
Over the last months, I have visited with families of victims, some which still believe the perpetrators should be executed, but others have told me they didn’t want the death penalty for the perpetrators. They didn’t want to re-live the experience during the countless appeals processes. They wanted closure in a different way.
Whenever I met with members of law enforcement or the legal system, I would ask them about the death penalty. Their responses have been – we “need” the death penalty for plea bargaining. “Don’t take it away.”
As a member of the Appropriations committee, I have been able to tour some of our correctional facilities.
When I have met with constituents, friends, and others I have been asking them about the death penalty as well. I have been surprised by how many people say we should repeal it!
The turning point in my decision began April 1, during a personal conversation in my office with Ray Krone. Ray had been falsely accused and convicted of murder in Arizona in the 90’s and was given the death sentence. Ray had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was near an area where a woman had been raped and murdered. He had no resources so was defended by a public defender, and some false evidence was utilized to convict him. Several years later, his family scrapped together enough money and Ray won a new trial on appeal. The judge in the second trial believed there was not enough evidence to overturn the conviction. In 2001, when DNA could be used for back cases, DNA from that case proved Ray was not guilty and matched that of another man in the vicinity of the crime the same day. Ray was finally a free man after 10 plus years in prison. Ray was the 100th person exonerated by post-conviction DNA evidence, which indicated to me our judicial system doesn’t always get it right. There have now been more than 150 people exonerated from death row. To me, this is 150 innocent lives that would have been unjustly ended.
One of the questions I asked Ray, “Obviously, you knew you were innocent, but having been in prison over 10 years, if you had been guilty what would you prefer, the death penalty or life in prison without parole?” Without a second’s hesitation, he said the death penalty. Here was a man who had lived in prison, saying he would rather be put death than face life in prison without parole.
Earlier this week I told my staff, unless I hear some concrete reasons during floor debate that we should keep the death penalty, I am going to vote for the repeal.
Today, several senators described some horrific Nebraska crimes. Absolutely awful! If they weren’t heinous, nothing is. The “fear” or deterrent of the death penalty did not prevent these crimes from happening.
After telling my decision to a few colleagues and staff, I saw the result of a poll done in March of this year (referred to in Thursday’s edition of the World Herald). The question asked: Do you support or oppose replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison with absolutely NO possibility of parole?” The results from my District 4 constituents show 58% support, 27% oppose, and 15% are unsure to repealing and replacing the death penalty. I was pleased to learn that most of the residents in my district have come to same conclusion.
This morning, I voted along with 29 of my colleagues to advance the bill that would change a penalty from death to life imprisonment without parole. This was only a first round vote. We have two more rounds and possibly a veto override vote to come.
As debate on this solemn issue moves forward, I will continue to listen and learn from people on both sides of the issue. Should there be something compelling enough to convince me to change my vote, I will. For today, I am confident that I voted the right way.
The session is over two-thirds done on this 63rd working day. We will soon begin evening debate as bills concerning the budget, the death penalty, minimum wage, prison reform and others remain on the agenda.
Last week was a surprisingly quick end to LB 472, the Medicaid Redesign Act. A committee amendment failed to pass on a vote of 22-24, signaling the intentions of the body. The bill was postponed on a bracket motion, essentially killing it for this year.
I can argue this issue from both sides. As a medical provider, I never turned anyone away due to their ability to pay. After spending some time researching the issue to make my decision more clear, I found there are more people who enroll in Medicaid than are projected in states that have adopted the program.
Two problems I have with expanded Medicaid are availability of providers and increasing state funds needed to make up differences in payments to providers. The bottom line is: Nebraska Medicaid spending is increasing at an unsustainable rate. We need to rein in the present system before expanding into a program that delivers even more generous benefits to more people.
The past week was a first for me as I led a filibuster against LB 31, the bill to repeal the motorcycle helmet law. The discussion took 8 hours before a cloture vote was taken to end debate. The rules state that cloture requires 33 votes. The vote was 24-18, and 4 not voting.
As I stated many times during the debate, freedom comes with responsibilities. Nebraskans are still free to ride motorcycles, but not without helmets. The medical costs to society are no match for that freedom. The bill has been introduced several times and has never been successful.
The legislature started all day debate this week after completing afternoon committee hearings. The Appropriations Committee will continue to meet after adjournment to finalize the required state budget.
We have reached the halfway point of this session. I am fascinated by our process and am so pleased to be here. In the Appropriations Committee we are in the process of hearing from agencies and bills asking for money. I am astonished by the number of requests. Many are deserving of support but there is only so much money available.
Our big job will begin soon as we sort through all the requests. We will make tough decisions of which to fund and which will go no further.
As to floor debate, I have learned one big lesson: it is easier to pass a law than to change or repeal one. We need to be certain any law we pass is one we can live with “forever.”
Thank you for giving me the privilege of serving you. Everyone, have a great St. Patrick’s Day!
On this 45th working day, we are at the half way mark of my first legislative session. Several committees have completed afternoon public hearings. Appropriations, on which I serve, is still hearing requests from agencies and special interest groups.
Bills designated individual, committee, and speaker priorities go ahead of others when the agenda is compiled. LB 452, which I introduced on behalf of the Nebraska Medical Association, would create a baseline by which all health occupations and professions can follow as a guide in their health care advertisements. That bill was selected as a speaker priority.
LB 156, a bill introduced by Senator John Stinner of Gering, is my personal priority bill for this session. The bill would increase the aggregate amount of refundable tax credits for “Angel Investors.” This bill is to stimulate state economic development and create more jobs for Nebraskans.
The Speaker allowed one morning this week for committees to meet in “Executive Session,” which is a private meeting to determine which bills to advance for debate. A majority vote is required to forward a bill to the entire legislature.
I was disappointed that the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee deadlocked at 4-4 on sending LB 373, which I introduced, to the floor. The bill would require school buses manufactured after 2016 to have shoulder-lap belts for all passengers. Students would be required to have training and wear the belts. I was planning to designate LB 373 as my priority bill for this session. Priority bills are guaranteed debate before the end of the session. I will be studying other issues to use as my priority for this year.
A bill with much discussion this past week was LB 366, to increase for Medicaid eligible aged, blind, and disabled persons, who reside in an alternative living arrangements, the personal needs allowance from $50 to $75. I supported this bill, which was amended and moved to second round debate with a $10 increase, to $60 per month.