Nebraska Legislature

Luna Stephens

Nebraska News Service

Nebraska has legislative commissions focused on the state’s Latino and Native American populations, but not one for African Americans.

LB918, proposed by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would create a 14-member commission of African Americans to keep the Legislature and governor informed of issues affecting the African American community. 

The Legislature passed statutes creating a Commission on Indian Affairs in 1971 and a Latino American Commission, originally the Mexican American Commission, in 1972. 

Wayne said he felt it was odd there wasn’t a commission to address the specific disparities faced by African Americans in Nebraska. The bill includes housing, education, medical and dental care and employment as areas the commission will focus on.   

According to the bill, the commission will operate similar to existing commissions for racial groups. The commission would meet once every quarter and members would be appointed by the governor. 

“It’ll be a direct voice to the governor and to the Legislature,” Wayne said. “So I think it’s important that we have people on there who will voice their concerns.”

Wayne said he expects the bill to pass when the legislature resumes, as it hasn’t faced any opposition. 

“It’s just a good bill,” he said. 

The Latino American Commission has worked to address Latino and Hispanic-specific issues in the state. 

Executive Director Lazaro Arturo Spindola said the commission has focused on areas including education, health care, employment and housing. 

Rose Godinez, Nebraska ACLU legal and policy counsel and a former member of the Latino American Commission, said the commissions provide unparalleled access to the government for people of color. 

“It truly does give you this access that you don’t have in any other group,” she said. “We don’t have any other groups of people of color that are literally part of the government to advocate for you.”

Arturo Spindola said he’s seen some African American representation in areas like the Equal Opportunity Commission and the ombudsman’s office, but he thinks a true commission is long overdue. 

“I think the creation of the African American Commission is an issue of justice,” he said. “It’s something that the African American community deserves and needs.”

The bill would also require all three commissions to collaboratively conduct a disparity study on government contracting every other year beginning in 2022. 

Wayne said this report will help inform the Legislature on the baseline of disparities that exist in the state so they can be addressed. 

Arturo Spindola said the Latino American Commission has worked closely with the Indian Affairs Commission, and he foresees the same sort of partnership with the Commission on African American Affairs. 

Dewayne Mays, president of the Lincoln NAACP, said he also foresees the NAACP working closely with the commission. 

“That’s one of our main focuses, working with African American people and promoting things that they are interested in,” he said. “I think we would certainly have an idea of what issues are important, so we can provide some input there.”

Godinez, who testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the ACLU, said the organization is hoping to see the bill pass and urges Nebraskans to support it. 

“African American and Black individuals deserve this representation,” she said. “It also allows Black and African American Nebraskans to have access to the legal, political, social and economic spheres that take place within the Legislature, so we’re happy to support this bill.”

Hi, my name is Luna Stephens and I am a senior journalism and advertising and public relations major at UNL. I am also currently an intern at the Omaha World-Herald and previous to that, at the Lincoln Journal Star.