Campus Sexual Violence Reporting Requirement Advances in Legislature

Jan. 23, 2020, 5:18 p.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Public colleges and universities would have to report on sexual violence on campus under a bill advancing in the Legislature. And proposals on everything from public meetings to reworking the entire tax system were submitted, on the last day to introduce new bills.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh is the lead sponsor of a proposal dealing with sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking on campus. It would require public colleges and universities report to the Legislature every two years the results of any campus climate survey, and on training, procedures, emergency help and agreements with law enforcement to address the problems. There would also be public hearings on the reports. Cavanaugh told her colleagues the bill is an important first step.

“It’s a piece of legislation that may seem like just a report. But to victims of sexual assault and sexual violence, this is showing them that the Legislature cares, that we want to hear their voices, and that we want to have the tools to do something moving forward,” Cavanaugh said.

Senators voted 40-0 first round approval of the bill.

Sen. Joni Albrecht introduced a proposal requiring public bodies allow public comment at each of their meetings. Under current law, that’s not always required. Albrecht said it should be.

“You're electing somebody to a body that gets to collect taxes from you. They need to hear from you. So, if you're an NRD (Natural Resources District), and you have your public meetings, or a city council -- I've been to a few that won't take public comment. They might call and say ‘I'd like to be on the agenda.’ There's all these different rules that everybody has. But you should have a public comment period,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht said she’s had complaints on the subject, not just from her district, but from around the state.

In debate Thursday, senators split over a proposal to require lawyers be appointed to represent every young person taken to juvenile court. Currently, that’s required only in the state’s three largest counties – Douglas, which contains Omaha, Sarpy, containing Omaha suburbs, and Lancaster, which contains Lincoln.

Sen. John Lowe of Kearney said the system’s working fine for young people as it is.

“It may do them some good to go before a judge and not have the attorney go before the judge. I know if I was in that situation, having somebody fight the fight for me would not mean as much as looking up into that judge’s face and having the sentence brought down on me, whether it's diversion, or time, or whatever else I needed that point. To have somebody else fight for you is not the same as you fighting for yourself,” Lowe said.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, lead sponsor of the bill, disagreed, saying young people who simply admit responsibility without using a lawyer may not realize their resulting records could hurt their chances for jobs and education.

“It's wonderful to say ‘The kid needs to buck up, pull himself up by the bootstraps, accept his punishment,’ except the fact that you're not going to be able to get a student loan to go to school. ‘Yeah, you screwed up, so too bad for you. You don't need an attorney,’” she said, sarcastically.

Senators adjourned for the day without voting on the bill, which is on the agenda again Friday.

And one day after a public hearing on a proposal to lower property taxes by increasing state school aid, members of the Revenue Committee met to discuss what to do next. The idea was supported by business and some farm groups, but opposed by schools, who don’t trust the state to replace all the property tax revenue they would lose.

Sen. John McCollister, who doesn’t support the bill, said the committee is taking the wrong approach.

“We've been on a fool's errand ever since we adjourned last session, trying to get a school financing bill out of the Revenue Committee, when it more properly should have been done by a blue ribbon committee,” McCollister said. “It's a very complex bill,” he declared, adding there’s a very real possibility the bill won’t pass.

On the other hand, Revenue Committee Chair Sen. Lou Ann Linehan said she was “elated” by the public hearing. At the hearing, schools objected to having their future budget growth limited to the consumer price index, since 80 percent of their costs are for salaries and benefits, which tend to go up faster.

But Linehan said retired people watching the hearing at home and living on slowly increasing Social Security payments wouldn’t be swayed by schools claiming they couldn’t live within the consumer price index. “What are they talking about?” she said. “You can’t get disconnected from what people can afford to pay.” Linehan said the committee will continue working on the bill.

And a completely new way to handle the state’s tax problems was proposed in another bill introduced on the last day for new bills. Sen. Steve Erdman and 9 cosponsors want to abolish sales, income and property taxes, and replace them with a consumption tax on all new goods and services.

Erdman said the tax would apply, for example, to new cars, but not used cars, to food, and to medical and all other services.

“You've all heard the saying, ‘We should think outside the box,’ right? Well, I would say that this is thinking outside the box, on steroids,” Erdman said.

Erdman predicted making such a change would attract more businesses to the state and convince young people and retirees to stay in Nebraska.