Requiring jail for assaulting health care workers advances

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February 1, 2012 - 6:00pm

Assaults on health care workers and university construction proposals were discussed in the Nebraska Legislature Thursday, while in Washington, partisan wrangling continued over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Assaults on health care workers are an increasing problem, according to Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop. In 2009, he said, there were more than 2,000 assaults on nurses, who lost an average of four days of work. Senators say the violence often takes place in emergency rooms, where people are brought suffering from injuries from fighting or taking drugs. Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell says the situation is contributing to a nursing shortage. Lathrop wants to require minimum sentences of six months imprisonment for third degree assault, with a year for second degree and two years for first degree.

Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege asked if there weren't a less costly way to deal with the problem than increasing prison populations. "Why can't we have some kind of a mandatory stiff fine that might also be a deterrent but would bring money into the state instead of take money out?" he asked.

Sen. Tom Carlson

Lathrop said that wouldn't work for economic reasons. "The population of people that are engaged in assaults don't pay fines. Most of em are folks that just don't have the means to pay a fine," he said. "We could charge them $5000 as a mandatory penalty, and then they come before the court and say I can't pay it.' So we accomplish nothing."

Sen. Steve Lathrop

Senators voted 34-4 to give the bill the first of three approvals it would require before being sent to the governor.

In the afternoon, the Appropriations Committee held a public hearing on University of Nebraska construction proposals. The University wants to use $91 million dollars from the state's roughly $400 million cash reserve.

The money would be divided into $50 million for a cancer center at the university medical center in Omaha, $19 million for a nursing and allied health professions building in Kearney, $17 million for a nursing facility in Lincoln and $5 million a veterinary diagnostic center, also in Lincoln. A long parade of university personnel and supporters endorsed the proposals as good for health care, student retention, and economic growth.

However, Gov. Dave Heineman, who's made tax cuts his legislative priority, has said the timing of the proposals is not good. Some senators have predicted not all the proposals will be funded. Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton, sponsor of the bill to fund the nursing facility in the Capital City, referred to that possibility. "I'm not going to say that we should sit here and fund all of them. But I am saying that if we choose not to there'd better be good

Sen. Tony Fulton

reason for choosing not to, because they are all worthy of our consideration."

Meanwhile, in Congress, Republicans are continuing their efforts to work around President Barack Obama and approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Last month, President Obama rejected TransCanada's bid for a presidential permit required to cross the Canadian border. But a new bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Johanns would claim Congressional authority to approve to the project.

Johanns said his bill would allow TransCanada to begin building the pipeline outside of Nebraska while a final route within Nebraska is agreed upon by TransCanada and state authorities. "This legislation respects that agreement," Johanns said. "The Congressional Research Service did a very thorough analysis and said look, when it comes to foreign commerce, Congress has the ability to pass legislation."

Johanns accused President Obama of delaying the pipeline to avoid an election year controversy between Democratic leaning union groups that approve the project and environmentalists who oppose it. But speaking with reporters Wednesday, Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, put Republicans at fault for trying to rush the issue through Congress rather than letting the permit process run its due course. "It's time to stop the political games and let a new application move forward with agreed upon review by state and federal agencies, rather than politicians in Washington deciding they are for or against it. Why not let TransCanada offer a new route and let a fair and thorough process move forward?" Nelson asked.




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