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Week 4 of legislature has been a typical work week during a short session. Early morning meetings with my staff. Floor debate from nine a.m. till noon. Meetings over the lunch hour. Hearings that run late into the night, followed by meetings with my staff who provide me prepared materials to review that evening. Then I get up the next morning and do it all over again. It keeps me pretty busy, but it is rewarding work knowing that I and my fellow Senators are looking out for the best interests of the good people of Nebraska.
My staff and I have been preparing for Tuesday’s hearing, January 30th, on my bill LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act. This bill and the events that precipitated the writing of this bill has received quite a bit of media attention both locally and nationally. I want to provide some clarity about what has been written about the bill. First, this is not a bill to restrict or squash free-speech on college campuses. Quite the opposite! The goal of LB718 as amended by AM 1553, is to guarantee / protect the free-speech rights for ALL – students, faculty, staff and invited guests. Everyone should have the right to be heard.
Second, the bill does NOT outlaw counter-demonstrations. All points of view should and need to be heard. It is through the free flow of information and ideas that we are able to make educated and sound decisions. The bill does state that counter-demonstrations may be held so long as such conduct is lawful and does not interfere with the free expression rights of others on campus by materially and substantially disrupting activities and the functioning of the institution. In simpler terms, respecting the rights of others to freely speak and display materials. This should encourage dialogue rather that a shouting match and name calling.
Third, it requires institutions of higher learning to report on an annual basis any incidents that happen on campus during the year and how those situations were handled by the institution. It holds the institutions accountable for protecting the free-speech right of all on college campuses.
Recently the Board of Regents for University of Nebraska passed the Nebraska Policy Commitment to Free Expression; Guide for Facilities Use; and Education. I would like to compliment the Board of Regents for unanimously adopting a new free speech policy. This is an important first step toward addressing the serious free speech issues that I and my fellow Senators Steve Erdman and Tom Brewer identified at UNL. While this is a positive step, we must still see how the new policy will be implemented by the NU Administration. There are areas in their policy that need further clarification. This is one reason why I am continuing on with LB718. Additionally, LB718 as amended is not limited to the University of Nebraska but encompasses all public institutions of higher learning in the state of Nebraska. I encourage you to read the bill as amended and to testify on this bill. Your voices need to be heard. Again, the hearing will be held on Tuesday, January 30th within the Education Committee. The Education Committee meets in room 1525 of the State Capitol.
Shifting gears, two bills that I have received quite a lot of correspondence about from constituents were LB780 and LB1022. LB780 introduced by Senator Patty Pansing-Brooks from Lincoln seeks to outlaw the manufacture of “bump stocks” and “silencers” or, more accurately “suppressors” and make it a crime to possess these items. The comments we received were overwhelmingly against this bill. I agreed with the comments that “suppressors” needed to be taken out of this bill. I had my staff draft an amendment that would strike out any reference to “suppressors” from the bill. During the hearing, Senator Pansing-Brooks did remove this language from the bill. As a result of her actions there was no need for me to submit my amendment. One would have to assume that she received the same type of correspondence that I had received. It just goes to show that correspondence matters!
The second bill, LB1022, known as “Adopt the Irrigation Tax Act” was introduced by Senator Paul Schumacher from Columbus, Nebraska. As with LB780 the correspondence we received was clearly against the bill. The costs to farmers would be astronomical. Rest assured, I will not be in support this bill.