Senators discuss police oversight, climate change, new revenue forecast

Sen. Justin Wayne speaks Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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July 23, 2020 - 6:22pm

Requiring cities to establish civilian boards to investigate complaints against police, planning to dealing with climate change and extreme weather, and a surprisingly optimistic fiscal forecast were among subjects discussed in the Legislature Thursday.

The Nebraska Legislature’s rules allow new bills to be introduced only in the first 10 days of the legislative session. Sen. Justin Wayne asked lawmakers on Thursday to suspend those rules so he could introduce a bill requiring cities to appoint civilian police oversight boards.

“This vote is not about whether you support this bill or not. This vote is about the opportunity to introduce a bill to a conversation, to a bigger picture item that we have seen play out on the news across the country for the community that I represent,” Wayne said.

Wayne is biracial and represents a north Omaha district where half of residents are non-white. The bill would give local boards the power to investigate complaints of police misconduct and officer-involved shootings. Boards could also submit reports and evidence of possible criminal conduct to county attorneys.

Wayne’s motion drew support from Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers.

“It would give those who might be of a mind to think that the only avenue for bringing about a change is to have massive collections of people in the streets, that some politicians have listened, have heard, are willing to give the public an opportunity in a formal setting to express what their concerns are,” Chambers said.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk spoke against the motion.

“Although well intended, I’m speaking in opposition to the motion. It is a point in time where what Sen. Wayne is wishing to do becomes virtually impossible,” Scheer said.

Scheer pointed out that there are only 14 more business days remaining in this legislative session. Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln picked up on that concern.

“There might be many different ways to approach the particular problems that are trying to be solved. If that is true, then I don’t think a rushed process with 14 days left in the session is the right policy approach,” Hilgers said.

Wayne pushed back.

“You’re telling me that when there are rioting, when there are protests, when there are people dying, we can’t introduce a bill, because of time?” he asked.

After about an hour and a half of debate, Speaker Scheer dropped his opposition to letting Wayne introduce his bill.

“My comments were directed strictly to the procedure. However, in listening to the discussion, I’ve changed my mind,” he said.

Senators voted 32-4 to allow Wayne to introduce the bill, which is expected to be the subject of a public hearing either next week or the week after that.

Also Thursday, senators debated a proposal by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks to spend $250,000 to have the University of Nebraska come up with a plan to deal with the effects of climate change and extreme weather. Pansing Brooks said the plan is needed for several reasons.

“Pests, drought, floods, high winds, and other extreme weather events present serious, diverse and ongoing issues for Nebraska. Many sectors and resources are impacted by such extreme weather, including agriculture, water, health care, energy generation and usage ecosystems, forestry, rural and urban communities, transportation and commerce and industry,” Pansing Brooks said.

Sen. Dan Hughes, who farms near Venango, led the opposition to Pansing Brooks’ bill.

“I’m not a believer in the climate change. We are in a very active climate cycle right now. I’ve been in active weather cycles before in my life…as an ag producer, I live and breathe by the weather for over 60 years. I’ve paid very close attention to the weather. And I’ve seen a lot of extremes in my lifetime,” Hughes said.

Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington rejected that reasoning.

“If I have to choose between my good friend Sen. Hughes opinion about something and an entire field of scientists and their opinion about something, I’m sorry Sen. Hughes, but I’m going to choose the scientists,” DeBoer said.

Sen. Mike Groene opposed the idea of a plan.

“We’re going to have these piled higher and deeper people just looking at models and computers, deciding a five-year plan or a ten-year plan. You know where that comes from: socialism. That’s what they do. They plan their economies. This is planning an economy. This isn’t a study. This needs to go away,” Groene said.

Senators debated for three hours without reaching a vote on the bill itself. But with 21 senators voting to effectively kill it, it appears not have enough support to overcome a filibuster, dooming it for this year.

Also Thursday, the state’s Economic Forecasting Advisory Board adjusted its estimate of state tax revenue for the current fiscal year. Sen. John Stinner, chair of the Appropriations Committee, said the net effect is that senators will have about $50 million less to spend than previously anticipated.

 Stinner said the forecast was optimistic, adding that the professional forecasting services the board uses had pointed to a reduction more of $340 million. Stinner said the forecast means there’s still money for initiatives on property taxes and corporate incentives, but the state needs to be cautious about future spending.





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