NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Robert Hilkemann

Sen. Robert Hilkemann

District 4

Welcome

January 3rd, 2017

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.

Sincerely,
Sen. Robert Hilkemann

2017 Mid-Session Update

March 21st, 2017

District 4 Constituents:

Thank you for visiting my legislative webpage!

The 105th Legislature, 1st Session is underway. Today marks the 50th day of the session, which means we are slightly over halfway done with our 90-day session this year. I was pleased to meet the Legislature’s 18 new state senators following their election in 2016; they are a fascinating group with diverse views, and each one has brought a new and interesting perspective to the body. So far, we have debated the rules that govern our legislative process, passed budget adjustments at the recommendation of the Governor, and held committee hearings on every introduced bill. Surely, there will be many more interesting debates to come.

For the third year in a row, I led a coalition of senators in opposition to an attempt to repeal Nebraska’s helmet requirement for motorcycle riders. As a medical professional, I have firsthand experience working with patients with severe head injuries from motorcycle accidents. Furthermore, national data shows that when helmets are not mandated for motorcyclists their use decreases, and the number of fatalities and head injuries increases. This year, as in years past, we were successful in our attempt to stop this measure.

Additionally, as in my previous two years, I serve as a member of the budget-setting Appropriations Committee. Nebraska is unfortunately facing a difficult budget shortfall, and our committee is working diligently to ensure that our state gets back on track to good fiscal health. I am committed to ensuring that we are protecting the interests of taxpayers, controlling spending, and working to trim the budget wherever possible in my future work with the committee.

And, finally, I introduced several bills this year. A summary of each one is included below:

  • LB41 would change the enforcement of a child passenger restraint system from a secondary to a primary offense. The bill also increases the citation fine from $25 to $50.
  • LB42 would enact multiple changes regarding child motor vehicle safety. It first raises the age a child passenger restraint system is required from 5 to 7 years. Second, children being transported and using a child passenger restraint system shall be in the rear seat. Third, children up to the age of two would be required to ride in a rear facing car seat. In addition, it changes the age of requiring an occupant protection system from under 6 until 18 to under 8 until 18 in order to harmonize language from a previous change.
  • Under current law, all Nebraska counties except Douglas County are allowed to impose a 911 surcharge of $1 on landline users and up to 70 cents on wireless users. Douglas is limited to 50 cents in both categories. LB43 removes the statutory exception for counties containing a city of metropolitan class and brings Douglas County into balance with the rest of the state.
  • LB102 would change the penalty for witness tampering from a Class Four felony to a Class Two felony. There have been many cases of witness tampering in the area recently including: 2016 in Omaha- Charles Trotter, a gang member accused of murdering two rival gang members, had a key witness change testimony and claim to not remember anything, resulting in a mistrial. This is a miscarriage of justice and must be addressed.
  • LB117 is a reintroduction of LB804 from last session and creates the Investigational Drug Use act, better known as the “right to try.” This bill allows terminally ill patients to access potentially lifesaving medication that has passed Phase I of FDA approval, showing that it is not harmful, but has not yet completed full approval. This bill advanced from committee 7-0 and was a speaker priority bill last year, but did not advance due to time constraints.
  • LB118 would create the Education Savings Account Act. Upon creating an Education Savings Account, annual contributions of up to $2000 per account may be deposited in order to provide for qualified education expenses for the student.
  • LB279 would require lap shoulder belts to be used on all school buses manufactured or purchased after January 1st, 2018. I introduced a nearly identical bill in 2015. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association supports seat belts on school buses, and I believe this is an important measure to protect Nebraska’s children while they are in the care of our schools.
  • LB400 deal with the taxation of motor vehicles. This bill changes the refund on motor vehicle taxes upon the transfer of ownership to remaining number of days instead of months. This bill was constructed after a constituent brought to our attention that he was double taxed when he sold his car to his daughter.
  • The purpose of LB349 is to transfer the administration and maintenance of the State DNA Sample and Data Base Fund from the Attorney General’s office to the Nebraska State Patrol. The purpose of this bill is government efficiency and streamlined administration of this fund, as the Attorney General’s office has no access to this fund and no part of their budget is paid by this fund.
  • LB402 seeks to change the Technical Review Process only in regard to scope of practice changes in an attempt to make it less adversarial and less burdensome for both the applicant and affected groups. This process was initially created by LB407 which was passed many years ago to set up a fact-finding body in regard to the need for regulation of health professionals or change in scope of practice. LB 402 is a much needed update to this process.
  • LB 513 would direct the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Medicaid and Long Term Care to provide for an increase in base rates paid for inpatient hospital services provided under a Medicaid prospective payment system.

This year, I designated LB91 as my priority bill, with an amendment that also incorporates my LB 401. This measure will modernize terms and change the fee for the administration of the Newborn Screening Program to no more than $20. In addition, three diseases will be added to the newborn screening program. These diseases are X-linkedadrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), mucopolysaccharidoses type 1 (MPS-1), and Pompe disease. I introduced these bills after a 2015 meeting with a constituent named Meghan, whose life was forever altered by X-ALD after the death of her father, who carried the disease. Screening for this disease would allow early intervention to change the lives of Nebraska babies. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this important legislation.

Thank you again for visiting. Please contact my office at any time if you have questions or concerns about any of the issues facing our state.

Sincerely,

Bob

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.

http://www.omaha.com/news/legislature/bill-to-issue-work-licenses-to-young-immigrants-heads-to/article_910eb312-0193-11e6-ad91-97cc0b98cc4d.html

Hilkemann’s Highlights

January 22nd, 2016

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.

Hilkemann’s Highlights

May 29th, 2015

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:

http://www.omaha.com/news/crime/zeal-for-death-penalty-has-been-withering-on-judicial-branch/article_27c63b78-7963-5322-8237-634ca9968957.html

http://journalstar.com/news/opinion/editorial/editorial-stand-firm-on-death-penalty-repeal/article_7b0457b5-0012-53ff-8be4-63a3d7397f9e.html

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.

 

Hilkemann’s Highlights

April 14th, 2015

Hilkemann’s Highlights

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.

Hilkemann’s Highlights

March 26th, 2015

Hilkemann’s Highlights

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.

As I See It

March 17th, 2015

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!

Hilkemann’s HIghlights

March 16th, 2015

Hillkemann’s Highlights

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.

Sen. Robert Hilkemann

District 4
Room #2028
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2621
Email: rhilkemann@leg.ne.gov
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