The Nebraska State Capitol at sunset on Feb. 17, 2022. The image has
April 11-13: Holocaust education, drug and alcohol immunity and election changes
“Constitutional carry” legislation stalls, falls short by two votes

A bill to allow Nebraskans to carry a concealed handgun without a permit stalled this legislative session after failing to receive enough votes to end debate. Under current law, an individual must pass a background check, pay a $100 fee and complete a gun safety course to acquire a permit. LB773 from Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon would have removed the permit requirement, which proponents argue is under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. One problem Brewer said with permits is the wait time for permits, which can be between 60 to 90 days, potentially problematic for individuals in domestic violence situations. The bill faced intense debate, but it failed by two votes on a vote of 31-9. 

Investigation of workplace harassment allegations against Groene ends

The legislative investigation into workplace harassment allegations against former Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte concluded April 13, finding the senator did not violate relevant laws amid workplace harassment allegations. Groene resigned Feb. 21 amid allegations he took inappropriate photographs of a female legislative staffer without her permission. 

Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, who served on an appointed panel with Sens. Tom Briese of Albion and John Arch of La Vista as well as attorney Tara Paulson, read parts of the investigation’s findings on the legislative floor, which found Groene’s actions did not constitute unlawful discrimination or harassment according to relevant legal standards or the Legislature’s workplace harassment policies. The report described Groene’s behavior as “boorish, brainless and bizarre, especially for the workplace,” and had Groene not resigned, he likely would have faced reprimand, censure or expulsion. However, Paulson did not have access to all evidence as the Nebraska State Patrol continues its independent investigation, and Paulson reserved the right to reopen or reevaluate the report’s conclusions based on new evidence if it becomes available and if asked to do so by the Executive Board. Several recommendations regarding workplace harassment policies will also be considered before the next legislative session, Wishart said.

Groene released a statement after the report was made public and said he was given bad advice by Executive Board Chair Dan Hughes of Venango, Speaker Mike Hilgers and Gov. Pete Ricketts to consider resigning without due process. “In retrospect, I should not have,” Groene said. He alleged the photos he took were private and taken in a public setting, but Executive Board employees and a member of his staff broke into his work computer and invaded his privacy. Groene also did an interview with Fred Knapp of Nebraska Public Media in which he said he “did nothing wrong” and addressed the report in full.

Effort to eliminate lifetime ban on SNAP benefits for felony drug convictions fails

An effort by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha to eliminate Nebraska’s lifetime ban on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility for felony drug convictions ended April 11. The Legislature adjourned without voting on the bill. The bill would have changed state law that removes SNAP eligibility for individuals with three felony convictions for use or possession of a controlled substance or one felony conviction for distribution or intent to sell or distribute a controlled substance.

Holocaust, acts of genocide will be required learning in social studies classrooms

The Nebraska Board of Education will be required to adopt academic content standards for education on the Holocaust and other acts of genocide after lawmakers passed a bill April 13. The bill, LB888 introduced by Sen. Jen Day of Omaha, mandates social studies education about all acts of genocide as recognized by the U.S. Congress or United Nations as of Jan. 1, 2022. The bill passed 40-1; Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson voted no.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha previously amended the bill to also add standards related to slavery, lynching and racial massacres in America. However, Speaker Hilgers said speaker priority bills, like LB888, have not been scheduled for future debate if they include “new material,” and the material would need to be taken out. He said he would not have scheduled the bill for final reading if this was not done. Wayne said the move would “whitewash history” and be hypocritical as other speaker priority bills have been amended multiple times in the past. Day said she would be willing to work with Wayne next year to include those standards in another bill. Wayne’s material was removed from Day’s bill on a 27-13 vote.

Loan assistance, certification changes pass to address teacher shortages

Student teachers who provide service for a full academic semester within a public or private school could be eligible for $1,000 in loan forgiveness under a bill passed by the Legislature April 13. LB1218 from the Education Committee also allows out-of-state teachers to demonstrate eligibility for teaching certification in Nebraska if they possess similar credentials in another state. Additionally, the State Board of Education may not require a statewide examination as an entrance requirement for basic skills competency when approving education programs.

The passed bill also included parts of LB945 from Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, authorizing the state Department of Education to provide $5,000 per person per year in loan repayment assistance. The forgiveness would be available for up to five years and the total amount of assistance may not exceed $5 million in any fiscal year. Individuals must be a Nebraska resident teaching full time or meet certain other qualifications. The bill passed 46-0.

Several changes to election law approved by Legislature

Senators approved several changes to Nebraska’s election laws April 13. LB843 from Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon makes several minor changes, but also included provisions from many other bills. Through Brewer’s bill, electioneering is prohibited within 200 feet of a ballot drop box, mail-in ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. Central or 7 p.m. Mountain time on Election Day, voters can use a symbol or signature stamp if they cannot sign their name, an election commissioner or county clerk can remove a voter from the voter registry if they receive information from the state Department of Motor Vehicles that the voter has moved out of state and procedures for removing a voter from a county’s early ballot request list are established.

In addition: election officials who neglect their duties or willfully engage in prohibited conduct under the state Election Act are subject to a Class I misdemeanor, an optional field for a candidate to include their email address on filing forms will be provided and certain televised political ads for statewide offices must be closed captioned as well as requiring a transcript of radio ads be posted on a candidate’s campaign website. These provisions originated from Sens. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln (LB849), John McCollister of Omaha (LB861) and Rita Sanders of Bellevue (LB928), respectively. Many other changes were also adopted on a 45-0 vote for the bill.
Businesses that employ felons eligible for state tax credit

Businesses that employ felons may apply for a state income tax credit through a bill legislators approved April 12. A non-refundable tax credit equal to 10% of the wages paid to someone who had been convicted of a felony will be available under LB917, which was introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha. This credit per employee may not exceed $20,000 and applies to wages paid during the first 12 months of the employment. The Nebraska Department of Revenue can approve up to $5 million in credits each year, beginning in tax year 2023. The bill passed 47-0. 

UNMC Rural Health Complex funding passes Legislature

Senators approved April 13 funding for a new facility to train rural health care providers. The legislation was based on bills separately sponsored by Sens. John Lowe of Kearney and Robert Hilkemann of Omaha The approval appropriates a total of $24.5 million in general funds over the next three fiscal years toward operating expenses at the University of Nebraska Medical Center Rural Health Complex, housed at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. This will support new programming in allied health professions, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health. The bill passed 45-0.

Computer science, technology approved as graduation requirements beginning 2026-27

Computer science and technology education will be a requirement for graduating high school seniors beginning with school year 2026-27. LB1112, introduced by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney, requires each Nebraska school district to include such education in elementary and middle school programs beginning with the 2024-25 school year. A one-semester high school course in computer science and technology would fulfill the requirement, and the course may be offered in a traditional classroom setting, blended environment or in a technology-based format. The bill passed April 12 on a 33-11 vote.

Prescribed continuous glucose monitors will be covered by Medicaid

Prescribed continuous glucose monitors will be covered by Medicaid after legislators passed a bill 46-0 April 12. LB698 from Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward requires the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to provide coverage by Jan. 1, 2023.

Eastern Nebraska lake, water recreation and tourism, canal projects all approved

The Legislature approved several water recreation and tourism projects across Nebraska as well as the Perkins County Canal Project April 12. LB1015, introduced by Speaker Mike Hilgers on behalf of Gov. Pete Ricketts, authorizes the development, construction, management and operation of a canal under the terms of a 1923 interstate compact. This would divert South Platte River Water from Colorado to Nebraska. Those involved with the project and their immediate family members cannot have a direct or indirect financial interest in the canal. The measure passed 42-4.

LB1023, also introduced by Hilgers, authorizes the state Game and Parks Commission to oversee the construction of marinas at Lake McConaughy and Lewis and Clark Lake as well as an event center and lodge at Niobrara State Park. The state Department of Natural Resources is also authorized to build and manage a lake in eastern Nebraska within the Platte River’s floodplain. The department must give preference to contract proposals from a nonprofit corporation — including at least four directors appointed by the governor with majority approval of the Legislature — and those that provide for a public-private partnership. The nonprofit board will also include one nonvoting member each from the Legislature and Game and Parks Commission. The bill also prohibits financial interests in the projects. The bill passed 38-6.

Confidentiality strengthened for survivors of sexual assault, sex trafficking

Attorneys and criminal justice agencies must withhold personal identifying information of alleged survivors of sexual assault or sex trafficking until charges are filed, after senators approved a bill April 12. LB1246, introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, allows relevant information to be shared between criminal justice agencies, attorneys and victim advocacy agencies under certain circumstances. The bill permits sharing information with educational entities, like a Title IX coordinator. Pansing Brooks’ bill also included a provision of LB204 originally from Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling. This requires convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders under Nebraska’s Sex Offender Registry Act beginning Jan. 1, 2023. The bill passed 47-0.

Immunity eligible for certain drug, alcohol offenses in connection to sexual assault

A bill providing immunity from arrest and prosecution for drug or alcohol offenses in certain situations passed April 12. LB519, introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, allows immunity if a person is a victim of or a witness to a sexual assault and they report it to law enforcement or request emergency medical assistance. Evidence of an offense obtained or discovered as a result of a reported crime or requested assistance will not be used as long as the individual cooperates with law enforcement. The bill had roots in University of Nebraska-Lincoln student advocacy. The bill passed 37-7.

The Legislature’s final day of the 2022 session will be Wednesday, April 20.

Source: Unicameral Update

Zach Wendling is a senior journalism and political science double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focused on political, policy and governance reporting. He is the spring 2023 intern for the Nebraska Examiner and has been published in publications across the state as part of the Nebraska News Service. Wendling interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. and worked for The Daily Nebraskan at UNL. He is one of the founding members and inaugural president of UNL's new campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.