Greetings from Lincoln! We are fifty days into this sixty day legislative session, and we have a lot left to do. We spent the majority of Monday and Tuesday of this past week still debating the budget, and much of that time was spent debating the Governor’s proposed tax cut plan. It was a good debate, with many thoughtful points being brought up. There isn’t a senator here who wouldn’t like to grant tax cuts to hard-working Nebraskans, however, right now we are facing likely budget shortfalls in the next few years. After careful consideration, compromise, and a re-working of our 2012 budget, we did advance a pared-down version of LB 970. I admit I am still a little leery of this course of action this year. I hope that when we prepare the next budget that we are not forced to cut services.
Wednesday morning we advanced LB 1145, introduced by Senator Amanda McGill of Lincoln, a bill dealing with the subject of human trafficking. It is difficult to know exactly how big this problem is in Nebraska because right now we are not tracking the numbers of people involved in human trafficking in our state. However, we do know it is a serious problem worldwide and the U.S. is not immune. One group, the Polaris Project (www.polarisproject.org) does keep track of calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline. During the past three years, there were 70 calls from Nebraska to this hotline. One UNL professor estimates that there could be as many as 2,000 Nebraskans caught in slavery (as part of the sex trade or other, such as sweatshop labor). Those most likely to be caught in this are troubled youth and runaways, vulnerable young people who should not have to sell their bodies and their lives away just to survive. But any kidnapped child (or adult) could be sold into human slavery.
LB 1145 would take the first steps to stopping this problem in our state. The bill, as amended by the Judiciary Committee, would do several things, one of which is to increase the penalties for pandering (pimping). Currently this is only a misdemeanor but under this bill it would become a Class IV Felony, punishable with up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. LB 1145 would also require that posters be placed in visible places at rest stops and strip clubs with information which would help a victim to gain assistance and would create a task force to investigate and study human trafficking in Nebraska. I hope that we find this is not a serious problem here in Nebraska and that we can stop it before it becomes one.
On Thursday, we debated bills on consent calendar, which is a way for the Legislature to manage its time more efficiently. It allows the body to shorten debate on non-controversial subjects and leave more time to debate more complicated or controversial issues. If a bill is unanimously passed out of a committee, the speaker may put it on consent calendar. Bills on consent calendar must be noted on the agenda at least 24 hours before debate begins. Any bills which are objected to, in writing, by at least three senators are removed from consent calendar. Once debate begins on these bills, debate is limited to fifteen minutes for each bill. This year we had 59 bill on consent calendar.