Senators try tying helmet repeal to other bills; criminal history bill heard

Sen. John McCollister testifies on his criminal history bill. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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March 13, 2017 - 5:03pm

As the Nebraska Legislature continued to debate repealing the state’s motorcycle helmet law today (Monday), some senators tried to tie it to other issues. And a public hearing took place on a bill designed to prevent a criminal record from disqualifying someone from being considered for a job.

Sen. John Lowe’s bill, LB368, would repeal Nebraska’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law for riders 21 and older. Lowe described disagreement about the bill as a matter of philosophy. “One side appears to believe that rights start with what government is willing to give up. However, I reject this idea,” Lowe said. “Rights do not come from government. Rights are inherent to all individuals, and we are all born with these rights. Government has the responsibility (to) protect people’s liberty. But it does not grant people those liberties that it protects.”

Sen. Robert Hilkemann, opposing the bill, said repealing the helmet law would result in increased health care costs. “States who have repealed this bill have found an increase in the number of fatalities, an increase in the number of brain injuries, an injury (sic) in the cost of the health care that’s there,” Hilkemann said.

Sen. Tyson Larson, who supports the bill, said Hilkemann’s logic implied the government should mandate or provide health insurance for everyone. “Following your logic, that would be something, because it would lead to safer individuals and it would also lead possibly to less cost to the state if we mandated other individuals buy health insurance, correct?” Larson asked.

“That’s an area I have some strong feelings about, but that’s not the discussion this morning,” Hilkemann replied.

Both Larson and Hilkemann have opposed expanding Medicaid, part of the Affordable Care Act, which also required individuals to have health insurance.

Sen. Sara Howard, who opposes repealing the helmet law, said having insurance in place might make a difference in her reaction to the bill. “If we had Medicaid expansion, I probably wouldn’t have that big a problem with this bill, because we wouldn’t be seeing individuals who were uninsured or didn’t have access to some type of health care coverage putting those costs back on premium payers,” Howard said.

Sen. Anna Wishart said she supports the bill, and hoped others who did would support a bill she has coming up. “I hope that the colleagues that I’m hearing today who are talking about people’s individual liberties, I hope then they would be in support of the medical cannabis legislation I will be bringing. I mean, we have the ability in this legislature to give people and their loved ones access to a treatment form that can positively impact their lives. And a lot of the arguments today about individual liberties I would hope that you would be using those same arguments in voting in favor of LB622,” the medical cannabis bill, Wishart said.

But Sen. Ernie Chambers was skeptical. “I think that these people who are talking on this bill are the same ones who will vote against medical cannabis; they’ll vote against expanding the reach of Medicaid; they will vote against protecting the LGBT community from discrimination. So it’s a lot of hypocrisy,” Chambers said.

Nevertheless, Chambers said he would support the helmet bill, saying the Constitution does give people the right to be a fool.

The Legislature adjourned for the day without reaching a first-round vote.

Monday afternoon, the Business and Labor Committee held a public hearing on LB420, Sen. John McCollister’s proposal to prohibit private employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on an initial application or first discussion about a job. Nebraska law already contains such a prohibition for public employers. McCollister said employers could still ask later. “LB420 would not completely prohibit an employer from inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history, but would bar this inquiry as an automatic precondition to being considered eligible for that position,” McCollister said. “This would allow an applicant who may have made a mistake in his or her past to at least get a foot in the door to meet with a potential employer.”

Lowe said many small businesses buy pads of pre-printed job applications, some of which contain a box asking about criminal history. “Could a business, not knowingly, become unlawful by using one of those pads and an employee come back later on against that business not even knowing that that law exists?” Lowe asked. 

“I’d argue, Sen. Lowe, that with 25 states having passed this legislation that you probably have a good opportunity to buy forms without a box. McCollister said. “If that didn’t work you could take a black highlighter and just mark it out.”

The bill would apply to businesses with 15 or more employees. The committee took no immediate action.  




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