Straight Talk From Steve: Sine Die
June 8, 2023
Last Thursday was the final day of the Unicameral Legislature's 2023 Legislative Session. The final days of the session were hardly void of drama, overrides, and surprises. For example, State Senators voted to override the Governor's veto to fund the State Auditor's staff, voted to reconsider the appointment of the Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Systems director, and voted not to confirm a commissioner to the State Racing and Gaming Commission. In addition, three important bills were passed during the final two days of the session, so today I would like to tell you about these three bills.
The first bill was a repeal of the motorcycle helmet law. The repeal of the helmet law was amended into LB 138 and passed on May 31, the day before the Legislative Session ended sine die on June 1. Although this bill is considered controversial, I have received a lot positive comments about passing this piece of legislation. Sen. Mike McDonell of Omaha summed it up best when he advocated for this bill on the floor of the Legislature. Sen. McDonnell said: "Let those who ride, decide."
The next bill was LB 50, a bill which was passed on the last day of the Session. LB 50 loosens sentences for convicted felons held in Nebraska's prison system. So long as an inmate's rap sheet does not include convictions for any kind for sexual assault, bodily injury, or death, his or her sentence may be reduced by the Good Time law minus an additional twenty percent. The bill was considered controversial not only because it reduces the sentences of convicted felons, but because the bill advanced out of the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 4-2 and that vote was taken after Sen. Susan Geist of Lincoln, a member of the Judiciary Committee, had resigned in order to run for mayor, and her replacement had not yet been named.
I voted against LB 50 because I believe it undermines the purpose of our State's penal system. The primary purposes of the penal system are to take dangerous criminals off the streets and to punish lawbreakers for the crimes they have committed. Automatically reducing the sentences of convicted felons undermines these two most basic purposes of our penal system and sends a wrong message to jurors and judges that the work they do in establishing sentences is somehow wrong. Moreover, states, such as Colorado, which have passed similar kinds of legislation, have seen spikes in their crime rate.
The last bill was LB 514, a bill for voting with photo Identification. In 2022 the citizens of Nebraska voted successfully to pass Initiative 432. That ballot initiative amended the Nebraska State Constitution, requiring qualified voters to show their photo Identification before casting a ballot at any election and directed the Legislature to prescribe the manner for doing so.
In January I submitted a bill for rolling out Initiative 432, namely LB 230. This bill was intended to enact the will of the citizens who voted for Initiative 432. Unfortunately, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee chose not to advance that bill out of committee; instead, they advanced LB 514. The Legislature passed that bill on the last day of the session and sent it to the Governor to be signed into law.
When the people voted for Initiative 432, they expected State Senators to draft the kind of legislation that would reflect the will of the people and require registered voters to show a photo ID when they vote at the polls. Therefore, State Senators will analyze this bill over the interim, especially after they receive a formal opinion back on the bill from the State Attorney General. That opinion will be very helpful and instructive for directing State Senators on how to amend the bill during next year's Legislative Session.