Category Archives: Judiciary Committee

Redundancy Department

I’m a firm believer that our ancestors already passed most of the laws we need a long time ago and that most new legislation is redundant or unnecessary. Once you’ve covered coercion and fraud you’re basically just repeating yourself to keep on passing new laws against them in their various forms. Three bills scheduled to be heard by the Judiciary Committee this Friday seem to fit this bill. They are LB35, LB63, and LB508 – “gang” laws that, as far as I can tell, outlaw things that are already illegal and create some more bureaucracy to study the gang problem and recommend solutions.

Take LB508, for example. This bill is to outlaw gang initiation activities. Section 2 states “It shall be unlawful for any person to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly endanger the physical or mental health or safety of another person for the purpose of initiation into, admission into, affiliation with, promotion within, or continued membership with any criminal gang…” Isn’t endangering someone already illegal? What does specifying the purpose for committing the act add to the law? Does specifying the gang element add any deterrence here? Is a gang member going to read a law like this and say “Gee, I guess they’re really serious about this gang stuff, I better give it up”?

The list of “new” crimes in these bills goes on an on. LB63 contains this prohibition of grafitti: “Any person who knowingly and intentionally applies graffiti of any type on any building, public or private, or any other tangible property owned by any person, firm, or corporation or any public entity or instrumentality, without the express permission of the owner or operator of the property, commits the offense of unauthorized application of graffiti”. Isn’t making graffiti on someone else’s property already illegal in any jurisdiction where it’s a problem? Doesn’t vandalism cover it in places where “grafitti” isn’t specifically banned? Why do we need to (further?) codify this in state law?

I’m no lawyer but I’m pretty sure many of the things that these gangs are doing are already illegal, so what’s the point of cluttering up the legal code with these redundant laws?

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LB260 – Nebraska Claims for Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment Act

This bill provides for compensation and aid to people who have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for a crime. Some highlights are $50,000 per year incarcerated plus $50,000 per year on death row, compensation for lost wages and costs associated with criminal defense, compensation for medical expenses, five years of health insurance, and tuition reimbursement.

Given that wrongful convictions do occurr, I believe that the government does have a duty to try and make restitution to those it has victimized, however “honest” the mistake may have been. While lost years are impossible to replace, this bill goes a long way towards making things right again for someone who was wronged.

This bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Judiciary Committee in room 1113 on Thursday Feb. 19th at 1:30pm.

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LB 123 Watch

I’m pretty indifferent, personally, where question of drug use are concerned.  However, I’m not so indifferent where liberty is concerned, and anything that limits the exercise of liberty for others–even to be unwise–is automatically suspect where I’m concerned.  The standard, in my view, for limits on the behavior of others ought to be: is there a HIGH likelihood that the potentially unwise behavior will result in danger to the general public?

LB 123, introduced by Sen. Russ Karpisek (32), seeks to categorize the herb Salvia as a Schedule I Controlled Substance.  Schedule I drugs must fit into these categories:

  1. The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  2. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

In my reading on Salvia, I find little indication that it is exceedingly dangerous, or that the use of it poses a major threat to the general public.

One of the great ironies of this bill is that Sen. Karpisek has previously indicated that he opposes an outright ban on smoking in public locations (like restaurants and bars), preferring to leave the decision of whether or not to allow smoking to the owners of the establishment on “property rights” grounds.  And yet the potential danger to others from second hand smoke would seem to be more profound than the potential danger to others from the use of Salvia.

The bill is now on Select File, which means that it can be advanced to Final Reading.  Time may be limited to muster up opposition to the bill, but I would encourage those who love liberty to consider dropping their senator an e-mail, and question this bill on liberty grounds.

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Life and Death

Nebraska legislators will be looking at two options for the future of the death penalty: LB36 seeks to change the method of death penalty to lethal injection; LB306 would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The death penalty is a tough issue. I think we can all agree that taxpayers should not have to pay for the care of offenders. However, the more we move toward a justice system that seeks full restitution (where offenders repay the victim for any damage done and pay for any court or imprisonment costs as well), the less of a burden the criminal justice system in general will be on taxpayers.

There are a couple bills that appear to be moving in the direction of restitution: LB274 would allow the Director of Correctional Services to assign felony offenders (other than sexual offenders) to incarceration work camps, and LB78 would provide for a portion of an inmate’s wages to be deposited in the Victim’s Compensation Fund.

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The Unicameral Begins Session Today

Today’s Lincoln Journal Star discusses a few things related to the beginning of the session.  Since the session begins in a little over an hour, and looks to be largely a pro-forma meeting to formally assign committees and elect officers, I thought I might just toss the Journal Star’s items out there for consideration.  Obviously, during a “long session” (which whill go until early June), much more will be considered.

  1. Death Penalty Issues: The State Supreme Court declared the electric chair unconstitutional, leaving Nebraska with no means for implementing the Death Penalty.  Will the legislature pass a Lethal Injection bill?  The Journal Star seems to think so.
  2. Immigration Issues: Should the state implement a means of dealing with illegal immigration?  Should it mandate that employers be responsible for verifying the legal status of employees (beyond, one assumes, the current requirements that employers already fulfill)?  How does Nebraska deal with the impact of immigration on its communities?
  3. Children in Crisis Issues:  Further brought to light after last year’s “Safe Haven” law–intended to be a way for allowing newborns to be dropped off at hospitals–turned sour and resulted in a number of older children being dropped off as a means for getting them psychological and other support.
  4. Budget Issues:  The state currently has about a $590 million cash reserve.  How fast is that going to get spent down?  How will legislators deal with ever increasing demands for state funding, without spending that reserve?  And is more spending of the reserve a good idea in economic hard times?
  5. Tax Issues:  Almost no one likes taxes.  Nebraska is–with the combination of property, income, sales, gas and other taxes–consistently one of the top 20 taxed states in the country, and has occasionally slipped into the top 10.  We’re not likely to get tax cuts this year, with the uncertainty of the economy.  The question is, can we avoid tax increases and still pay the bills.
  6. Crime Bills: Attorney General Bruning is promoting a package of crime-fighting bills which would especially target on-line predators.  One bill would make is illegal for registered sex offenders to use social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.  No indications on how, exactly, the state would enforce that.

We’ll be watching, and if you hear of things going on in the Legislature that you’d like us to dig into a bit more, be sure to leave us a comment.

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Filed under Appropriations Committee, Health & Human Service Committee, Judiciary Committee, Nebraska Legislature, Revenue Committee