Rice hearing raises questions of women and minorities on Nebraska State Patrol

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April 29, 2015 - 5:49pm

A confirmation hearing for Gov. Pete Ricketts‘ nominee to head the Nebraska State Patrol turned into a discussion about the patrol’s record on hiring and promoting women and minorities on Wednesday.

Brad Rice has been serving as superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol since March 23, after having been nominated by Gov. Pete Ricketts. But his appointment must still be confirmed by the Legislature to be made permanent. Wednesday, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on that confirmation.

In his opening statement, Rice pointed to his 29 years of service with the patrol, from trooper to troop commander, and most recently as communications director at the Sarpy County 911 Center. He promised to develop leaders within the agency. He also alluded to controversy over his nomination, declaring "I want to assure this committee, your colleagues, and fellow Nebraskans that I am fully committed to ensuring equal opportunities for all."

Rice was referring to news articles that have recounted his saying women should not serve in law enforcement. He has also been accused of proselytizing on the job.

Rice said his comment about women had been a reflection of his concern that everyone needed to be equally well-trained. News accounts have said he made the comment after an incident in which a female trainee for the Omaha police department locked herself in a car during a confrontation. The comment came to light in a 2007 trial in which a female trooper successfully sued the state patrol over being denied promotions by promotion panels, on some of which Rice served.

In Wednesday’s hearing, Rice sought to put his remark in context. "Men and women need to have the same type of training, regardless of gender. We need to be ready to go. So, I would not dispute that testimony. But I would say that I think the intent was misunderstood," he said.

Retired state trooper Jane Tooley was among five witnesses, two of them female, who supported Rice’s nomination. Tooley praised Rice’s leadership and his treatment of her. "As a female officer on the State Patrol, I have always had great respect for Brad Rice, and I’ve always been with respect and as an equal by him. I think Brad Rice would make an excellent colonel for the Nebraska State Patrol," she said.

The only opposition to Rice’s nomination came from Lincoln attorney Vince Valentino, who represented the female trooper who won the 2007 discrimination suit. Valentino faulted the patrol as an institution, rather than Rice as an individual. "There has been a mindset in this agency for a long time. I have no opposition to Brad Rice as a person. I think he’s a man of integrity. But I can tell you, he’s part of a system that has been in this agency for 80 years. You don’t find too many minorities in this agency, you don’t find too many females in this agency. And there’s a reason for that. And they don’t last that long, either," he said.

According to state patrol spokeswoman Deb Collins, of the patrol’s 437 Sworn Officers, 26 are female and 13 are minorities. Sen. John Murante of Gretna, chairman of the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee, asked Valentino if that should be the basis for a decision on Rice. "The issue before us is not a reform package of the Nebraska State Patrol. It’s whether or not to confirm a gubernatorial nominee. I agree the statistics are problematic," he said.

"They could be improved," Valentino said. "The question is, do you go outside the agency to do it? My suggestion is yes," he added.

Murante also asked Rice if he could have been punished for proselytizing on the job. Rice said he could have, but he had not been, and that while he is a man of faith, he had not proselytized on the job.

The committee took no immediate vote on his nomination, but Murante said afterwards he thinks members are favorably disposed toward Rice. If the committee recommends him, his nomination will then be forwarded to the full Legislature.

In other legislative action, lawmakers gave second-round approval to a bill that would give fraternal organizations including Woodmen of the World, which sells insurance, a property tax break.

Sponsoring Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha said Douglas County treats such organizations differently than Nebraska’s 92 other counties. Opponents of the bill criticized an $800,000 tax break for one company.

Supporters were one vote short of invoking cloture to cut off debate and vote on the bill, when Murante switched from not voting to voting for cloture. The bill then advanced on a vote of 29-13.



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