This week at the Legislature marked Days 62 through 65 of our 90-day session. Two key items are worth mentioning from this week’s business.
First, and with great disappointment, it has become clear the Revenue Committee has no interest in supporting my priority bill (LB350) to reduce the valuation of agricultural and horticultural land from 75% to 65% for the purposes of property taxation. Currently, LB350 is one vote short of advancing out of committee. The objection of some rural Senators is the lack of benefit LB350 would provide their districts. Despite efforts to add an amendment providing state aid funding for their rural school districts which do not receive any state aid, there continues to be a lack of support by these rural Senators. Notably, the Department of Revenue just released its Property Assessment Report for 2014-2015 indicating a nearly 20% average statewide increase in property tax valuations for agricultural land.
Second, this week largely focused on prison reform and the death penalty. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Legislature debated LB605, LB598, and LB173. These bills are considered the prison reform bills and respond to the prison overcrowding issue which is a major concern.
As amended, LB605 would restore a state law requiring the minimum sentence for a serious felony be no longer than one-third the length of the maximum sentence. In addition, LB173 would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for several felonies and restrict the use of enhanced penalties for habitual criminals to a limited list of violent crimes.
Overall, these bills are concerning. While we unquestionably face a serious problem with prison overcrowding, LB605 and LB173 are not the solution. Rather than be soft on crime, we need to remain tough on violent crimes and habitual criminals. We should address other solutions, such as assisting non-violent criminal’s rehabilitation and their re-entry into society.
LB268 was somberly addressed on Thursday morning. Introduced and prioritized by Senator Chambers, LB268 seeks to repeal the death penalty for first-degree murder and replace it with life imprisonment without parole. LB268 opponents, of which I am a part, insist on the necessity of capital punishment for the most heinous crimes to ensure strict justice is served. In addition, capital punishment provides an effective deterrent to other crimes. As well, our Attorney General offered data refuting the claim prosecution of capital punishment is a cost-burden and financial hardship to the State. Also, in response to affirmations about our God-given human dignity, opponents affirm the State has a unique God-given authority to ensure society is protected from violent criminals, even to the extent of using deadly force.
LB268 advanced to second round with 30 votes. While this is sufficient support to become law and override a Governor’s veto, LB268 needs 33 votes to override a filibuster. I voted against the repeal of the death penalty—the need for capital punishment is a rare but necessary tool for our civil society.
As always, please contact me, administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or legislative aide, Tom Venzor, with questions or thoughts at (402)471-2728 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keeping the Good Life Growing in Nebraska,
Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16