NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Curt Friesen

Sen. Curt Friesen

District 34

Senator Friesen will be holding a Town Hall Meeting in conjunction with the Central City Chamber of Commerce Civic Breakfast

When:          Monday, March 27, 2017                                           7:30 – 8:30 a.m.

Where:         Venture Center    —  1532 17th Avenue, Central City, Nebraska

Town Hall Meeting with Senator Curt Friesen

When:            Friday, March 24, 2017                                   7:30 – 8:30 a.m.   

Where:          Aurora Town Hall   —   1604 “L” Street, Aurora, Nebraska

 

Weekly Column

March 20th, 2017

This week in the legislature two school-related bills garnered a lot of attention and sparked some intense debate.

On Tuesday, March 14, the Education Committee held a public hearing on a bill introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill that would allow creation of independent public schools, also known as charter schools.

LB 630, the Independent Public Schools Act, would permit nonprofit organizations and certain other entities to establish independent schools in any school district with a school the State Board of Education has identified as significantly underperforming.  Level of performance is determined by evaluating several factors including graduation rates and test scores.

The bill would create an eight-member commission to grant and oversee charter school compacts.  The bill would also authorize school districts to grant and administer compacts for charter schools to operate within their boundaries.

The schools would be independent of any school board and would be managed by a board of trustees.  Each charter school would receive state aid equal to the number of enrolled students multiplied by the statewide average funding per formula student amount.  They would be open to all students through a lottery system.

The debate over whether or not to permit charter schools elicits strong emotions on both sides of the issue.  At its core though, no matter which side you come down on, is the belief that every child in Nebraska must receive a high quality education that will prepare them to become successful adults and equip them with the skills they need to get good jobs and be productive members of society.

Personally, I am a strong supporter of the education provided in the state’s public schools.  This is not to say that all public schools are excelling, clearly there are some that are not. But overall our public schools do a good job and I think it’s important that we give them credit for the work they do.

I have introduced several bills this session that call for significantly changing the way we fund public education by reducing the current heavy reliance on property taxes. This is in no way a reflection on the quality of public education in the state. I am not trying to take money away from the public schools.  I am simply hoping we can come up with a different funding mechanism that will still adequately support our schools while sharing the economic burden more fairly.

Very soon the Revenue Committee, of which I am Vice Chair, will be putting out its proposed tax package and I’m sure I will have some additional comments on education funding at that time.

LB 62 introduced by Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk was filibustered for a second time by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers.  The bill would repeal a law prohibiting public school teachers from wearing religious garb at school.  The prohibition was passed by Nebraska in 1919 and requires school boards to suspend a teacher for one year for a first violation and terminate their employment upon a second violation.

Sen. Chambers also staged a filibuster against the bill on General File.  First round debate was ended by a cloture vote on Feb. 22 after two days of protracted discussion.  Senators then voted 36-1 to advance the bill to Select File.  The second round filibuster was ended by another successful cloture vote and the bill was advanced to Final Reading on a vote of 41-1.  It is likely Sen. Chambers will again waste a significant amount of time with a filibuster against the bill on Final Reading.

Having passed the halfway point in this legislative session with only 14 bills being sent to the governor, there is a significant backlog of legislation to get to and time is rapidly winding down.  In addition, we still need to pass a budget and with the revenue shortfall and anticipated budget cuts, this promises to be no easy task.  The Appropriations Committee has until April 24 (the 70th legislative day) to place the appropriations bills on General File.  The legislature is required to pass all appropriations bills by the 80th legislative day which is  May 10 this year.

Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss.  My email address is cfriesen@leg.ne.gov and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.

Weekly Column

March 13th, 2017

In the legislature this week several hours of debate were devoted to a proposal to change Nebraska’s mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws require judges to give fixed prison terms to persons convicted of specific crimes, most often drug offenses.

A bill introduced by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, would have eliminated the mandatory minimum sentences for Class IC and Class ID felonies.

Currently a person convicted of a Class IC felony is subject to a sentence ranging from five to 50 years in prison. Class IC felonies include robbery, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, and possession of certain amounts of illegal substances. Conviction for a Class ID felony, examples of which include possession of certain amounts of illegal substances and assault on a police officer or health care professional, carries a sentence of between three and 50 years.

Unlike some of the other bills the legislature has taken up this session that have consumed entire days with little to show, this bill prompted good debate.

Supporters of the legislation argued that inflexible sentencing laws are unfair, preventing judges from fitting the punishment to the individual and the circumstances of their offense.  Further that they have resulted in significant prison overcrowding and increased costs to taxpayers. In addition, incarcerated individuals are more likely to behave badly because they are not eligible to have their sentences shortened for good behavior.

Opponents of the bill contended that removing sentencing discretion from judges actually ensures fairness because it results in greater consistency for individuals convicted of the same crime. Mandatory minimum sentences also serve as a deterrent to crime as individuals are more likely to consider the potential consequences of their actions. Finally, mandatory minimum sentences improve public safety as longer sentences keep criminals off the streets.

In the end, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn offered an amendment to the bill eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for Class IC and ID drug offenses only, specifically for manufacturing between 28 and 139 grams of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.

The amendment was adopted on a vote of 29-9 and the bill then advanced to select file 25-22. It still faces two more rounds of voting plus surmounting a possible gubernatorial veto before it can become law.

I am personally in opposition to the bill. At the end of the day these individuals have been convicted of serious crimes and should bear the associated consequences. Judges continue to have a wide range of sentencing options that take into account the individual circumstances of the convicted offender.

March 9 was the deadline for senators and committees to identify their priority bills.  Bills with priority status are generally scheduled for debate ahead of other bills. Each senator may select one priority bill, each committee may select two priority bills, and the Speaker may select up to 25 priority bills.

I designated LB 640, introduced by Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, as my priority bill. The bill caps the property tax contribution for school funding at 60% and provides tax relief in equalized school districts by lowering the maximum levy from 1.05 to 1.00.

Four of my bills have been designated as priority bills. Three bills, LB 144 which changes valuation of agricultural and horticultural land for calculating state aid to schools, LB 161 changing provisions of the Nebraska Advantage Act, and LB 265 which provides for a minimum amount of state aid based on the number of students in a local school system were designated as priorities by other senators. The Transportation & Telecommunications Committee prioritized LB 339 which creates a Department of Transportation by merging the Department of Aeronautics into the Department of Roads. Additional bills may receive priority status as the Speaker priority bills have yet to be announced.

Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss.  My email address is cfriesen@leg.ne.gov and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.

Welcome

January 3rd, 2017

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 34th 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. Curt Friesen

Sen. Curt Friesen

District 34
Room #1110
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2630
Email: cfriesen@leg.ne.gov
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