For the last four weeks, the senators have dealt with some of the most difficult and divisive issues. There have always been splits, whether rural versus urban, or conservative versus liberal. The decisions this session have transcended those labels. This year I have seen rural against rural and conservative against conservative. There is a saying that we “leave the best for last”. I believe we left the “hardest” for last.
A split among the rural senators occurred on LB 176. Currently meat-packers have to buy their hogs from independent producers. Senator Ken Schilz’ bill, LB 176, would end the ban on meat packers owning their own hogs. Supporters of LB 176 say this bill would keep Nebraska on par with surrounding states who have seen their market shares increase because they allow for ownership of hogs by meat packers. The opponents believe it will mean the demise of the independent small producers by pushing them out of the market and possibly having no place to sell their hogs. The rural senators who usually have a like-minded perspective on these types of issues saw a cavernous divide. This split left many urban senators wondering what is the best policy choice. I had talked to a number of hog producers in the district who also were divided. A few liked the idea and others did not. In the end, the bill failed to receive enough votes to end a filibuster. The bill likely will be back next year.
Medical marijuana was on the agenda for this week until Senator Tommy Garrett asked the bill to be pulled. The bill would have allowed the use of the oil, high in cannabidiol, that has shown promise in reducing seizures in initial studies. Senator Garrett pulled his bill in order to work on issues raised during debate. However, Senator Crawford was successful in ensuring a pilot study be done at the University Medical Center. The drug would be provided to people with severe seizures. I believe the pilot study will give us valuable information on the helpfulness of the drug and any side-effects – which we can use for future discussion.
Next was LB 623 by Senator Nordquist for dreamers, or DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals). This bill will allow 2,700 kids to get a driver license every two years. These young people were brought here as young children, have been educated, live and work here. The governor vetoed the bill but 34 senators overrode the veto. Nebraska became the last state to enact this legislation.
Another issue that generated heated debate was the gas tax. The bill added 1.5 cents a year for four years to help fund the repair of deficient bridges and roads across the state. The money is divided in thirds, one third to the cities, one third to the counties and one third to the state. The increase to cities and counties totals $4.2 million for fiscal year 2015-16, $16.9 million for FY2016-17, $29.6 million for FY2017-18 and $42.3 million for FY2018-19. The increase to the department totals $2.1 million for FY2015-16, $8.5 million for FY2016-17, $14.8 million for FY2017-18 and $21.2 million for FY2018-19. When the Highway Trust Fund was created in 1969 it imposed a ‘user fee’ (the gas tax) to fund road construction and repair. Now cars are more fuel efficient and road construction costs are much more expensive. In order to ensure safe roads and bridges, an increase was necessary.
“Common sense tells us that it will cost a lot less to keep the system we have in good repair than to let it disintegrate and have to start over from scratch. Clearly this program is an investment in tomorrow that we must make today.” (President Ronald Reagan in his remarks on signing the surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982.)
The most contentious issue this session occurred on Wednesday, May 27: the repeal of the death penalty. I once believed the death penalty was a good tool for prosecution, a good punishment for the state to impose and a just penalty.
Up until I began my campaign, I frankly rarely thought about the death penalty. I began pondering the matter as I realized the question would likely come up during the campaign. My opponent and I were asked this question at a forum. I stated that all of my life I have been okay with the death penalty, but now I am at a point where I view life in prison with NO CHANCE of parole as an acceptable option.
After listening to all the senators who sat though the hearing on the bill, testimony from those closest to this issue, hours of debate and after reviewing much information, I opted for life in prison without the possibility of parole.
One argument presented is that the death penalty is a deterrent. If this premise is true, very few murders would occur since Nebraska has had a death penalty in place for decades. Yet, from 2006 to 2013 in Nebraska, there were 453 murders/manslaughters (according to the Nebraska Crime Commission reports). With only ten on death row, the death penalty has been inequitably applied to those charged with murder. It is used as a threat to elicit confessions as seen in the case of the “Beatrice Six” and is costing the state millions of dollars in reparations. The drugs to carry out the death sentences are nearly impossible to access and this creates more avenues for costly appeals. There already are numerous appeals by those on death row and the appeals cannot be limited because of due process.
I received hundreds of emails, letters, and phone calls on this issue. I asked my staff to keep track – and positions on this issue were split virtually down the middle, 50-50.
I was elected to represent District 30, to listen to the constituents, study relevant information, listen to the debate, and use my judgement. I have done so. I do respect your opinion and regret that my vote on this matter does not meet with the approval of some of my constituents. And as always, I encourage you to contact me with your views.