Home State Recapping the Nebraska Legislature, Feb. 24-28

Recapping the Nebraska Legislature, Feb. 24-28

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The Nebraska Legislature continued with committee hearings and advanced a number of bills from general file during the week of Feb. 24-28.

LB 962, or the Fair Pay to Play Act, introduced by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, gained first-round approval Feb. 25. The bill would allow college athletes in Nebraska to earn money from their name, image, likeness or athletic reputation, according to the bill’s statement of intent. 

Athletes would be permitted to sign with an agent, and athletes may seek damages if a postsecondary institution or athletic association punishes them for pursuing compensation. 

Under the proposal, student-athletes would be required to report any personal contracts to their respective college or university and would be prohibited from wearing apparel, or any other form of advertising, for a sponsor during official activities. 

“Every other student on campus has the ability to go out and make money off of their skills, off of their talents, except for athletes,” Dave Gottschalk, Hunt’s chief of staff, said. “What inspired Sen. Hunt to do this was the idea of economic freedom and economic justice, so that all student-athletes have the same rights as students on college campuses.”

An amendment to the bill by Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln made clear that any financial compensation earned by an athlete would be considered should the athlete apply for need-based financial aid. Senators adopted the amendment 26-2.

Sen. Andrew La Grone of Gretna sponsored an amendment that would make it so student-athletes would have one year from a cause of action to file a civil complaint against their postsecondary institution. The amendment passed following a 31-0 vote.

The bill advanced to select file with a vote of 36-4.

A bill that would expand access to handicapped parking permits came before the Urban Affairs Committee Feb. 25.

LB 976, introduced by Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln, would allow neurological impairments to be a condition under which an individual could obtain a state-issued permit. The bill defines a neurological impairment as any disorder that interferes with an individual’s ability to walk and could include autism or dementia. 

A 2018 state Department of Motor Vehicles report indicated there are approximately 144,000 handicapped parking spaces in Nebraska, and that the department processed 47,136 handicapped parking permits, meaning the inclusion of neurological impairments wouldn’t take parking spaces away. 

No one testified in opposition to the bill, and the committee took no action on it.

A bill aimed at helping first responders and emergency personnel mitigate the potential effects of post-traumatic stress disorder gained first-round approval Feb. 26, advancing from general file on a vote of 42-0.

LB 963, introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, would allow responders to receive workers’ compensation if they are diagnosed with PTSD because of injury or stress.

In order to establish a case, first responders would need to satisfy three criteria: proof of prior mental health testing, diagnosis of a mental health illness from a mental health professional and proof of completed resilience training prior to the event, as well as a commitment to attending yearly thereafter.

The bill would also establish who is capable of making a PTSD diagnosis, ranging from practicing physicians to psychologists to clergy members. 

The Business and Labor Committee offered an amendment that would clarify the definition of mental health professional to mean only state-licensed practicing physicians, psychologists and mental health practitioners. 

Senators adopted the amendment 37-0.

A bill introduced by Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue that would allow cities and villages to borrow money after a natural disaster advanced from general file Feb. 26.

When the March 2019 flooding contaminated the water supply in Peru, Nebraska, and the city had to ship in clean drinking water, previous statutes prohibited a local banker from being able to finance the costs.

LB 870 would allow cities and villages to directly borrow from financial institutions to restore public services, as well as to repair or rebuild property affected by a calamity. The bill defines a calamity as a disastrous event, including, but not limited to, a fire, earthquake or tornado.

The bill advanced to select file on a 41-0 vote.

Lawmakers voted 43-1 on Feb. 27 to adopt a resolution that urges the  Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize flood control over fish and wildlife protection when creating future manuals and updating levee standards. 

The resolution (LR 288), sponsored by Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, would particularly bring further attention to areas along the Missouri River in southeast Nebraska that are still suffering from last year’s devastating floods, as well as many other areas in Nebraska, as the Army Corps of Engineers has authority over many of the state’s levee systems, as well as a network of six dams used to manage water flow in the Missouri River basin.

The Army Corps of Engineers would receive a copy of the resolution, and a copy would also be sent to each member of Nebraska’s congressional delegation.

Brewer presented a bill to the Executive Board Feb. 25 that would require flags from any Native American tribe with historical or regional connections to Nebraska to be displayed in the Nebraska State Capitol. 

Flags from the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska — four federally recognized tribes in Nebraska with headquarters in the state — would be displayed in the George W. Norris Legislative Chamber under LB 937.

Other flags representing different Native American tribes with special connections to Nebraska would be displayed in the Memorial Chamber on the 14th floor of the Capitol. 

No one testified in opposition to the bill, and the committee took no immediate action on it. 

The Education Committee considered a bill Feb. 25 that would require the Department of Education to implement a statewide school panic button program that would be available to all K-12 public school districts.

LB 1156, introduced by Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, would appropriate $2 million to the department in the fiscal year 2020-21, which would assume the costs for all districts that decide to participate in the program.

The department would partner with technology companies and providers that have already created a statewide school panic button program. The technology would have to be available in the form of an app for cellphones and would have to be integrated with a public safety answering point, or a facility that is equipped and staffed to receive 911 calls.

The bill also outlines a number of requirements for how a message is sent via the new system. The system would have to be able to make a standard 911 call, email and send notifications out to all authorized users, as well as provide information about the school, such as building and floor plans.

The committee heard testimony from individuals who supported and opposed the bill, as well as from individuals testifying in the neutral position. The committee took no immediate action.

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony for a bill that aims to protect the personal privacy of Nebraska residents. 

LB 1091, introduced by Vargas, would prohibit any governmental entity from obtaining, retaining, accessing or using facial recognition technology. Additionally, the bill would prohibit information from facial recognition technology from being used as evidence in any legal proceeding in the state.

Civil action could be brought against governmental entities found to be in violation of the bill, including declaratory relief, damages and reasonable attorney fees and litigation costs, according to the bill’s statement of intent.

The committee heard testimony from supporters and opponents of the bill and took no immediate action.

Senior journalism student with a history minor.