Legislature adjourns for the week following meltdown

Sen. Mike Groene speaks Friday (NET screenshot)
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July 24, 2020 - 5:36pm

Following a meltdown fueled by personal recriminations Friday, the Nebraska Legislature adjourned for the week still facing major issues to be resolved.

The day began decorously enough, with Gov. Pete Ricketts  congratulating lawmakers on resuming their pandemic-interrupted session.

“Now, just as Nebraskans have stepped up to serve their community to meet the challenge of this pandemic, so we too must step up to the challenge in the remaining days of this session, to put the people’s work first, and focus on their priorities,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts’ said in his view, the top priorities are property tax relief, corporate tax incentives, a national emergency response center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, and a tax break for military retirees.

About an hour after the governor spoke, Sen. Mike Groene took to the microphone. After a debate about abortion Tuesday night, Sen. Adam Morfeld on Twitter accused Groene of reaching a new low by telling Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks to shut up, and in Morfeld’s words, flipping her off. Groene responded.

“Now I have been assaulted by the 20 or 30 people that’s on his tweet list about something that was between me and Sen. Pansing Brooks, if it happened or not,” Groene said.

Groene acknowledged telling Pansing Brooks to shut up, because he said she was heckling him. But in his telling, the gesture he made was a hand-chopping gesture telling her to stop. Pansing Brooks acknowledged talking while Groene had the floor, but said she was doing so because he was attacking her.

“Sen. Groene first said ‘Shut up’ and then he sat down after and then he said ‘And you call yourself a Christian. Amen.’ And then he sat down  and he just glared at me with the most horrible look and just held his finger up in his lap for to me, it seemed a long time,” Pansing Brooks said.

Morfeld then interjected to explain why he tweeted about the incident.  

“I did so because I think that that stuff needs to be brought to light. I think people need to know. Because otherwise Sen. Groene can get away with flipping people off anytime he wants on the floor of the Legislature and there not be consequences. It’s what happened. He has not denied it. Sen. Pansing Brooks saw it. I trust her,” Morfeld said.

Sen. Julie Slama then entered the fray, accusing Groene’s critics of a lack of perspective while, and taking a shot at Sen. Ernie Chambers.

“It seems to be a little hypocritical to clutch our pearls about Sen. Groene’s comments from Tuesday night without any reference to what happened on Monday, with Sen. Chambers referencing his evident rape fantasy with me and his continued sexual harassment of me on the floor of this Legislature,” Slama said.

Chambers previously accused Slama of racism after the Nebraska Republican Party circulated a mailer juxtaposing a photo of Chambers with one Slama’s election opponent, Janet Palmtag. The flyer said  Palmtag sides with “Lincoln liberals, atheists, and radical extremists.”

On Monday Chambers, who’s black, compared the mailer’s messaging to the racism of white slaveholders who raped their slaves, asserting blacks and whites are held to a different standard.

“Suppose I had raped white women. Suppose I enslaved Sen. Slama and used her the way I wanted to. You think Thomas Jefferson was a great man? Do you realize that he had a room in Monticello for Sally Hemmings?” Chambers said.

After about half an hour of the personal back-and-forth Friday, Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer moved to call a halt to the proceedings, and lectured his colleagues.

“You don’t have to like each other. But you have to respect each other on this floor. I’m no longer going to let this be a place to disintegrate individual senators. If you don’t like something go talk to them, off the mic. If you’ve got a problem, do that. This is not the place or the time for those discussions by anybody. I have signed an adjournment, because I think we need some time just to sit back and evaluate ourselves and our actions and how we’re going to move forward from this point,” he said.

Senators then voted to adjourn. They’re scheduled to resume Monday morning at 9 o’clock.









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