Home News Legislature debates abortion, school violence and land banks

Legislature debates abortion, school violence and land banks

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Nebraska Legislature

This story was written by Luna Stephens and Katie Anderson with reporting by Stephens, Anderson and Natalie Stanley
Nebraska News Service

On the Legislature’s second day of its summer session, senators passed a bill to allow college athletes to make money off their name and debated bills on abortion, land banks and school violence.

The following are highlights from the legislative session on July 21.

Student athletes earning money off their names
The Legislature voted 37-6 to approve LB962, the Pay to Play Act, which would allow college athletes to be paid for sponsorships.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha. The bill was signed by the speaker of the senate and presented to the governor.

Under the bill, student athletes could earn money from their name, image and athletic reputation. Student athletes still couldn’t enter into sponsorships that would require displaying the sponsor’s name or logo during games or conflict with an existing team contract.

Dismemberment abortion advanced on the legislative floor
Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist’s pull motion to bring her abortion bill LB814 out of the Judiciary Committee was approved 30-8. A pull motion is a way for a senator to request that the Legislature debate a bill that is stuck at an impasse in a committee.

LB814 will be debated on the legislative floor at a later date.

LB814 would prohibit the performance of dismemberment abortions on living fetuses, according to the bill. It would also provide for criminal penalties for physicians who perform live dismemberment abortions, as well as mechanisms for civil remedies. There is an exception for emergency situations.

“It is barbaric to cause the death of a living human being by pulling it apart limb by limb in the 12-to-24 weeks of pregnancy,” Geist said.

Geist said that LB814 does not remove access to abortion in Nebraska, it just requires that the method in the second trimester no longer be practiced. At 12-to-24 weeks of pregnancy, a fetus has a beating heart and fully developed arms and legs.

“I believe the discussion of human dignity belongs at the top of our list,” Geist said. “How we as a society treat the vulnerable and the defenseless is worthy of a hearing and our debate.”

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha said she was going to work to stop the bill. She called LB814 unconstitutional and said it took away healthcare options for women.

“A person’s health and a doctor’s best judgment, not politicians, should guide important medical decisions at every phase in pregnancy,” Hunt said.

Sen. John McCollister of Omaha said that 12 states have passed bills banning dismemberment abortion but in a majority of those states the laws are no longer in effect because courts struck them down.

“This is what is going to happen to LB814 should it be enacted,” McCollister said. “Do we really want to enact a bill that is constitutionally suspect?”

Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha opposes pull motions. Howard said the legislative body should follow and have trust in the committee process.

“Our institution is just as vulnerable as the people we believe we are trying to protect,” Howard said.

Sen. Julie Slama of Peru supported Geist’s bill, and said some of her constituents support LB814.

“This bill says that you cannot pull a living baby limb from limb from its mother’s womb,” Slama said. “Just because you can’t hear a baby scream doesn’t mean it’s not in pain.”

Geist said that according to the Nebraska Department of Heath and Human Serivces, in 2019 six dismemberment abortions occurred in Nebraska out of 181 second-trimester abortions.

Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln supported Geist’s pull motion and LB814.

“Unfortunately, I can’t hear from the babies that are impacted by this procedure, but Nebraska will hear from us on this bill,” Hilgers said.

Violent students in the classroom
Senators debated for three hours a bill that would assist teachers with violent students in their classrooms, but they did not vote on the bill.

LB147, introduced by Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, chairman of the Education Committee, would change the Student Discipline Act to give teachers legal protection for defending themselves and others against violent students. This bill was introduced in 2019.

The current law outlines what student actions may lead to discipline and empowers school boards to adopt policies, according to the bill’s statement of intent.

Groene said there is a gap in the statute that addresses how to handle disruptive students, but LB147 would fill that gap.

“Education cannot occur without a safe and focused learning environment, where all children can maximize their learning experience,” Groene said. “Every student entering a public school must be assured that they are safe and treated with equality.”

The bill states that when a student is violent, a teacher or administrator may use “physical contact or physical restraint or removal from a class in response to student behavior.”

The bill would also allow teachers to remove disruptive students from the classroom under certain circumstances.

Groene proposed an amendment that would among other things change the language of LB147 to include school personnel. It would also include the language of Sen. Dave Murman’s LB998, which puts into place behavioral awareness and intervention training requirements for school employees.

“This amendment creates a complete package that covers management, training, the classroom disruptions and employment and student protections,” Groene said.

Murman of Glenvil said LB998 and Groene’s amendment are a well-rounded plan to help teachers.

“Schools should be a place where kids can focus on learning, be creative and be free to explore the topics that are important to them,” Murman said.

But Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha presented a motion to indefinitely postpone LB147 because he thinks it would destroy the relationships between parents, teachers, students and the community.

“We are going to endorse a system that will create a bigger divide in an education system that already has disparities,” Wayne said. “This system will hurt young people particularly people who come from my community in Omaha and other areas of poverty.”

Military retirement pay could be taxed less
Senators passed an amendment to LB153, a bill introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon on behalf of the governor, and returned the bill to enrollment and review. The bill would exempt 50% of military retirement pay from income tax, and the amendment moved the date of the exemption to begin in 2022 instead of 2021. Brewer said this was meant to prevent the bill from dying, since the speaker notified senators that any bills with fiscal impact would not be debated.

Some senators voiced concerns about deciding on the bill when the status of the state’s budget is unknown. Others, including Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln, were concerned about pushing off the financial impact.

“As a general practice, I don’t like to vote for bills that push the fiscal impact into the future,” Bolz said. “I don’t think that’s best practice budgeting. These are extraordinary circumstances, and this is a bill of high priority and so I’ll make an exception for this bill this year.”

Land banks in Nebraska
A bill regarding land banks advanced to enrollment and review, which is the process of incorporating adopted amendments into a bill. LB424, introduced by Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island, would allow towns across Nebraska to join existing land banks for acquiring, managing and developing vacant and tax-delinquent properties under the Nebraska Municipal Land Bank Act.

Land banking is the practice of aggregating parcels of land for future sale or development. The only counties eligible under state law to create land banks are Douglas and Sarpy counties.

Quick introduced an amendment to his bill that was adopted 37-10 that includes language that clarifies that land banks will not invest money in anything that is a conflict of interest and permits a city to dissolve the land bank but retains the requirement for majority vote for cities of the metropolitan and primary class, which are Omaha and Lincoln.

Sen. John McCollister of Omaha supported Quick’s bill and amendment. McCollister said he has seen the unclaimed abandoned buildings all across Nebraska’s big and small towns.

In 2014, Omaha implemented the first land bank and has been successful, McCollister said.

“It has worked well in Omaha, and it could work well in many other parts of the state,” McCollister said.

Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln said LB424 does not have enough accountability and has conflict of interest issues regardless of Omaha’s successful implementation.

“It’s not because we are trying to react to something that’s happened in the past, it’s because we are trying to solve a potential problem in the future,” Hilgers said. “A problem that we know is more likely to happen when we don’t have these safeguards.”

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue spoke in favor of the bill and said what Hilgers was trying to do is “smoke and mirrors.”

“To me what I see as an outsider observing is I see more partisan shenanigans,” she said. “I see some people trying to kill a bill that Sen. Quick has quite sincerely worked hard to try and bring others on board to support, and that makes me sick to my stomach.”