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Legislature makes history and passes the repeal of the death penalty, LB 268
Today the Legislature debated and advanced LB 268, a bill to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. LB 268 faced a filibuster during its third round of debate on final reading. By legislative rule, it takes 33 votes to invoke cloture and cease debate. If a bill fails to gain enough votes for cloture, the bill is dead for the year. The Legislature voted 34-14 to cease debate and invoke cloture on LB 268. The bill passed Final Reading with 32 votes. I joined my colleagues in supporting the motion to invoke cloture and to pass the bill. Now we wait for the Governor’s response.
LB 599 Defeated on Final Reading
On Friday, the Legislature debated LB 599 on Final Reading. LB 599 would have allowed employers to pay young workers under the age of 18 a lower minimum wage than other workers. Because LB 599 amends a ballot initiative, it required 33 votes for passage. LB 599 did not acquire the needed 33 votes and therefore is dead for the year. I opposed LB 599 because it subverted the will of the people who spoke clearly on this issue in November when they overwhelmingly approved a higher minimum wage for all workers.
Bill to Grant Driver’s Licenses to DREAMers Advances to Second Round of Debate
On Thursday morning, the Legislature advanced LB 623, a bill to allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) youth, often referred to as DREAMers to receive Nebraska driver’s licenses. Currently, Nebraska is the only state in the country that does not allow DREAMers to obtain a driver’s license. DACA youth must have entered the United States before they were the age of 16 and prior to June 15, 2012. They must also be currently enrolled in school, received a high school diploma or an honorable discharge from the US Coast Guard or Armed Forces and cannot be convicted of a felony or pose a threat to national security or public safety.
LB 623 is supported by a broad coalition including Nebraska Cattlemen Association, Nebraska Restaurant Association, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Heartland Workers Center, and the League of Women Voters of Lincoln/Lancaster County. I joined 38 other senators in supporting the bill to allow these young Nebraskans, many of whom have spent a majority of their lives in Nebraska, to contribute to our economy and our communities.
LB 605 Advances with Additional Provisions for Counties
On Tuesday, the Legislature advanced LB 605 to Final Reading. As I mentioned in previous updates, LB 605 makes important changes to our criminal justice statutes based on the recommendations of the Council of State Governments and the Nebraska Justice Reinvestment working group. This working group consisted of members from the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
Since the bill was heard on General File in mid-April, I have worked extensively with Senator Mello, the bill’s introducer, and other senators involved in the working group to reduce the fiscal impact of LB 605 on counties. AM 1610 represented some of this work. The amendment clarifies that the special investigative committee created under the bill will also examine county costs as part of its charge. It also corrects some language Sarpy, Douglas and Lancaster counties have found problematic based on their experiences with recent juvenile justice reforms. I appreciate Senator Mello’s leadership on this issue and his willingness to work with me on behalf of Sarpy County and other counties across the state. I support LB 605 and look forward to voting for the bill when it comes up again on Final Reading.
This map from our Legislative Research Office shows us the property tax rates for every county in Nebraska. Note how high our taxes are in Douglas County. The second highest in the state at 2.27%. This year I have intercede legislation to reduce property taxes for residential homeowners to address this problem.
Today is a big day. We are having a public hearing for my priority bill, LB343, which invests in quality college and career opportunities for high school students across the state, while also holding schools accountable for the successes of their students in mastering these programs of increased rigor and relevance.
I am honored to have overwhelming support across the state from teachers and students, to school boards and superintendents, to chambers of commerce and labor organizations.
Today my second bicycle safety bill is up for a public hearing in Judiciary Committee at 1:30pm. This bill would increase penalties for motor vehicle homicides and serious bodily injuries to vulnerable road users such as walkers, bicyclists, horse carriages, motorcyclists, and children. You can view the bill here.
We had our first public hearing today on a bill I introduced to support people who ride bicycles. Here is a great article from today’s front page of the Omaha World Herald about this legislation.
Marty Shukert, who has been cycling to work for 38 years, rides Saturday near 38th and Farnam Streets. Shukert said any law designed to protect cyclists is a good thing. But he also said “bicyclists have important responsibilities” to follow traffic laws and ride courteously. “In other words,” he said, “everyone needs to give a little bit.”
POSTED: TUESDAY, JANUARY 20, 2015 1:00 AM
LINCOLN — An avid cyclist, 56-year-old Jim Johnston was just a few months into his retirement when he was struck and killed while riding his bike on Omaha’s West Center Road 10 months ago.
Former colleagues at Millard West High School, where Johnston had been a longtime teacher and athletic trainer, openly wept when told of his death.
“It just ripped the hearts out of the kids and the community when that happened,” said State Sen. Rick Kolowski, a former Millard West principal who had hired Johnston.
In September, a Lincoln cyclist, Douglas Dalke, had signaled a left-hand turn off of Lincoln’s Saltillo Road when he was struck from behind by a drunken driver and killed.
Dalke was widely known in the Capital City’s cycling community and was on a popular, but increasingly congested, cycling route around the south side of the city.
“It hit hard because he rode the same places we all ride,” said Brent Davis, a fellow rider from Lincoln.
Davis, the chairman of the board of the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance, and other riders will join Kolowski today at the State Capitol in search of improved state bicycling safety laws.
Three years ago, lawmakers passed a law that requires motorists to provide at least 3 feet of clearance, when possible, when passing cyclists on a roadway.
But Davis and others said that wasn’t enough.
“There was no education, no signage. Heck, a lot of law enforcement didn’t know about it,” he said.
Kolowski has introduced two bills in the Nebraska Legislature to stiffen penalties and seek a larger cushion of safety between bikes and cars.
With the increased use of bicycles as recreation and transportation, he said it’s time to update and improve state laws.
“Part of it is to raise awareness: Please be cautious and considerate of the cyclists who are using the same area that you are using,” the senator said.
One of his proposals, Legislative Bill 39, would require motorists to follow the same rules of the road when passing a bicycle as they do when passing a car: that means changing lanes to pass on a four-lane roadway, and crossing the center line to pass on a two-lane road. If a road is narrower than two lanes, the proposal calls for providing no less than 3 feet of clearance when passing.
Davis said the bill would make it easier for motorists to remember the passing rules and easier for law enforcement to enforce them.
LB 39 would also repeal a 1968 “mandatory sidepath” law that requires cyclists to utilize a bike path if one exists adjacent to a roadway. The proposal also gives cyclist the right of way when crossing a road in a crosswalk.
Right now, if a cyclist is struck by a vehicle while in a crosswalk, the cyclist could be ticketed for failing to yield the right of way, Davis said.
Most states have repealed their “sidepath” laws, he said.
For cyclists, there are times when they must get off a bike path. For instance, sometimes a path is poorly maintained or blocked, said Marty Shukert, a former Omaha city planning director who is also on the bicycling alliance board. Use of such sidepaths should not be mandatory, he said.
A second bill from Kolowski, LB 38, would increase the penalty for a motorist who carelessly strikes and either kills or injures a “vulnerable user” of a roadway. Such a user could be a cyclist, jogger, rescue squad member or highway construction worker, or someone in a wheelchair, farm tractor or horse-drawn carriage.
LB 38 would make it a Class IV felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. The bill also would allow a judge to revoke a motorist’s driver’s license for up to 15 years.
Twenty-three states have similar vulnerable user laws.
Kolowski said the purpose of LB 38 was to get people’s attention, and while his main focus is cycling, he wanted to define vulnerable users as broadly as possible.
“I know a number of people who are avid bikers. They’re really concerned,” he said.
The League of American Bicyclists ranks Nebraska near the bottom, 45th, as a “bicycle-friendly state.” It gets downgraded, Davis said, because it lacks a “complete streets” policy that requires planners to always consider cyclists when designing a roadway but also because of a lack of safety measures such as those proposed by Kolowski.
By contrast, Iowa ranks 25th as a bike-friendly state, though a push is on there too for stiffer penalties for unsafe passing following the cycling death in June of Shawn Gosch of Onawa. Still, Iowa has twice as many “bicycle-friendly” communities as Nebraska — six compared to three.
Shukert, whose private planning company is the only one in Nebraska to get a “gold” rating for its bicycle friendliness from the group, estimated that perhaps 80 percent of motorists already pass by moving over into the next lane.
“It’s the other 15 to 20 percent who are little bit on the scary side,” said Shukert, who has cycled to work for 36 years.
Obviously, Shukert said, motorists should not put themselves in danger when passing a bicyclist, but the two bills would make important safety improvements.
“On the other hand, it’s important to emphasize that bicyclists have important responsibilities: to comply with traffic laws, not be obstructive and be courteous,” Shukert said. “In other words, everyone needs to give a little bit.”
The Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee will hold a public hearing on LB 39 at 1:30 p.m. today at the State Capitol. A public hearing for LB 38 has not yet been set.
Last year, a bike safety bill proposed by then-Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha died in the Legislature. Besides safety measures, it called for better city and state planning for cyclists. But a hefty estimated fiscal impact killed the idea: $300,000 in state costs and $30 million in costs for Omaha to install hundreds of new traffic signals.
Davis, of the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance, said he hopes to avoid any financial barriers with this year’s proposal and just focus on better protecting cyclists.
“You can’t stop all distracted or drunk drivers, but increased safety is the No. 1 goal,” he said.
Ever since I was in early elementary school, I have been fantastically struck with the inner-workings of the government. I am fascinated with public policy, international relations and public opinion—three things that could put some to sleep. Moreover, I was probably the only third grader in the country watching CNN like a policy wonk. I started third grade shortly after September 11, 2001, which is when my captivation of politics began. My parents talked with me about politics and history a great deal. I knew as much as I could retain at that time about the tragic events of Pearl Harbor, the World Wars, and presidential scandals. Events and knowledge such as this built a foundation that I used to thrust myself into a political science major at UNL, where I will be graduating in May of 2015. Since starting at UNL, I have completed internships and jobs in both Lincoln and Washington, D.C., and eventually want to attend law school.People have asked me, on what type of law do you want to focus, what type of law do you want to practice? I think about that question and have come to what I think is a reasonable conclusion: I just want to help people. There are many problems in the world—from wars and famine to resource issues and social protests—I want to throw myself into as many issues as I possibly can. My most recent venture is with State Senator Rick Kolowski. I admire the Senator and his staff a great deal. This is truly one of the best places I have ever had the opportunity to work and can’t wait to assist them with the upcoming session.I encourage all of you to follow your passion and do what makes you happy. Public policy and political
strategy makes me happy. Even when there are difficult and sad times, there are goals to which I am working and won’t stop until I reach them.
I have been an intern in Senator Kolowski’s office for almost a year. Even at a young age I was curious about American politics and world news. I have always been inspired by the role politics plays at both a local and global level. During my freshman year at Lincoln East High School I testified at a committee hearing concerning the senator’s school security bill. This was my first experience getting involved in Nebraska politics and I knew instantly that it was something in which I wanted to further my participation. I believe that our great state’s unique system of government is an excellent example of government because it truly functions to best serve the people of Nebraska. Senator Kolowski and his staff have taught me many lessons over the past year but most importantly they have taught me the art of non-partisanship. The way the Senator and his staff care about the well-being of all constituents regardless of their political affiliations or viewpoints and work to serve them well, has inspired me to be a positive voice as I pursue politics further. This coming legislative session I look forward to leading our “Pledge to Reg” drive to allow 16-year-olds to register to vote when they get their motor vehicle license so that they are prepared to participate in elections right when they turn 18. This bill creates an excitement in youth about participating in Nebraskan politics. I enjoy my time as a dancer and cheerleader. I am on my school’s speech and debate team and student council. Outside of school I have the fantastic opportunity to be part of Youth Leadership Lincoln, an organization that has allowed me to network with other youth and adult leaders. I am very hopeful about Nebraska’s future and look forward to helping Nebraska grow in a positive direction.
Looking back over the 2014 year and forward to 2015
I am truly honored to serve another year as your state senator.
My staff and I developed a mission statement that we strive to follow on a daily basis:
“Our office operates with the traditional openness and progressive attitude upon which the Nebraska Unicameral was founded. We strive to be non-partisan, efficient and accountable to the public we serve in District 31 and to the great State of Nebraska”.
Looking back over 2014 and the 103rd Legislative Session:
When it comes to the budget, 2014 was a bipartisan year. The cash reserve was held to a reasonable level (slightly under $700 million), a reserve that has proven in the past and will prove in the future to be an invaluable resource during recessions.
My colleagues and I advanced a tax relief package that added up to relief of $412 million over five years. We also made long-¬term investments in Nebraska’s future. Your future. Included in these investments were: $31 million in both one time and ongoing funding to ensure that Nebraska’s water resources are not depleted; $28 million to start reform of the state’s prison system by reinvesting in lower cost alternatives to building a new prison; $880 million for state aid to education; $200 million in special education aid; extension of the Nebraska Advantage programs to help businesses expand and grow; and $3.7 million for early childhood education.
In 2014 I introduced 12 bills that tackled issues ranging from school security, college savings, property tax relief, special education, smoke¬-free daycares and many more. Four of my bills advanced with overwhelming support from my colleagues.
• LB 276: Changes the Medicaid in Public Schools (MIPs) reimbursement formula to bring an estimated $20 million additional federal dollars into Nebraska to pay for special education services in our schools.
• LB 546: Creates greater efficiencies for post¬secondary education capital construction projects.
• LB 732 (amended into LB 359): Removes college savings accounts and education income (internships, work study, scholarships) from counting against a person being eligible for certain public assistance programs.
• LB 872 (amended into LB 923): Reinstates the position of Statewide School Security Director within the Department of Education to develop minimum standards for school safety and security and to help schools achieve those standards.
Three bills I introduced in 2014 were brought to me by constituents, and I am currently working on another piece of legislation brought to me by a constituent that supports victims of theft who find their stolen property in a pawn shop. I want to encourage more citizens to collaborate with me on legislation.
Over the interim I introduced five interim studies, several of which have led to legislation in 2015. The topics ranged from local food, forensic science, and expanded learning opportunities.
This past interim the Education Committee underwent a statewide visioning process that sought public input to design goals and objectives that will improve the quality of education in our state and will help current and future policy makers identify priorities for education in our state. We will be putting this vision into law this session.
Looking forward to 2015 and the 104th Legislative Session:
I am proud have been elected this year as Vice Chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee. Supporting high quality education is a priority of mine at the legislature as it has been a mission of mine for over 41 years as an educator and the founding principal of Millard West High School.
I am also proud to serve on the Natural Resources and Nebraska Retirement Systems Committees and as an appointed member of the Water Sustainability Task Force and the Midwestern Higher Education Compact.
This session I will also be introducing legislation on college savings, property tax relief, domestic violence, educational rigor and accountability, bicycle safety, local food and allowing sixteen-year-olds to register to vote so they are better prepared to take part in this important civic duty at age 18.
My priority legislation this coming session is to establish the Career and College Readiness Fund. This fund reimburses school districts for increasing the rigor and relevancy in their schools through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, career education and dual enrollment courses, so that we adequately prepare our students for postsecondary education and careers.
I am looking forward to the 2015 session and getting to know 18 new state senators and getting to help them find their way around the halls of our great State Capitol.
Senator Rick Kolowski
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