Dems Hire Private Security for Senators; Sports Betting Foreseen at Racetrack Casinos

Jan. 19, 2021, 5:36 p.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol west side at sunset (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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The Nebraska Democratic Party has hired private security guards to protect senators in the Capitol. And sports betting would be possible at the casinos authorized by voters last fall. Details on those developments and more in this legislative update.

The Nebraska Democratic Party has hired private security guards to protect senators during heightened concerns about security in capitols around the country. Party Chair Jane Kleeb said many state capitols are shut down because of those concerns, but since Gov. Pete Ricketts said Nebraska’s Capitol would remain open and repeated his support for the law allowing people to openly carry weapons in the building, the party decided to act.

“I laid out a plan to have security essentially with senators when they were moving – to the bathroom, to the lunchroom, to the hearing room. And once they were in those rooms, we obviously felt secure. There’s normally security or personnel inside the rooms,” Kleeb said.

Sen. Megan Hunt, a registered Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, said she understands the concerns, but decided not to take advantage of the security guards’ presence.

“My office has gotten so many questions of concern from constituents about what’s being done in the Capitol to keep senators and staff safe. And so I understand organizations that want to provide security. But I’m not going to take advantage of something that everyone else doesn’t have access to. So for that reason I made the decision to just rely on Capitol security because I trust them,” Hunt said.

Kleeb said Tuesday afternoon the additional protection would be available to Republicans, too, if they request it.

Capt. Lance Rogers, head of Capitol Security for the Nebraska State Patrol, said he’s had good communication with Kleeb and doesn’t have a problem with the presence of the private security guards. Rogers said they are not armed, by their own choice, since openly carrying weapons in the Capitol is permitted. Rogers said four guards from the company 4 Horsemen Security were in the Capitol Tuesday.

Sen. Dan Hughes, a registered Republican and chair of the Legislature’s internal governing executive board, said he’s very confident the State Patrol has the situation in hand. And Hughes said he sees no need for additional private security in the building.

On gambling, sports betting would be allowed legislation introduced Tuesday. Most discussion in an initiative campaign last year concerned whether to legalize casinos at racetracks. But. Sen. Tom Briese, chairman of the General Affairs Committee that oversees gambling, says sports betting is consistent with the ballot language voters approved.

“The clear language of the statute provides for operation of all games of chance at licensed racetrack facilities. And games of chance includes sports betting -- I just wanted to clarify that and from my perspective, the clear language of the ballot proposal would include sports betting,” Briese said.

Briese’s bill also allows betting online, but the person doing so would have to be within the licensed racetrack grounds.

“Online and mobile betting’s important to, I believe, a lot of patrons of these establishments. However, it was our opinion that the language of the ballot proposal doesn’t really provide for the ability to bet from outside of these licensed racetrack enclosures,” he said.

Sen. Terrell McKinney introduced a bill to require Omaha and Lincoln to establish citizen police oversight boards, appointed by the mayor with city council approval. The boards would investigate shootings by police and citizen complaints and could publish their findings. They could also recommend actions to be taken by the police, and provide information to the county attorney if they think any criminal conduct occurred. McKinney said the idea is to increase transparency.

“If the police are doing a great job, then this committee will highlight that. And if there are issues, the committee will highlight those issues as well. I think we have to get out of the mindset of saying we’re doing the right thing all the time and open up our minds to see that, although you may think you’re doing something right, look at the protests over the summer, and look at all the interactions in the videos, something isn’t going right so we have to come to the table and do something about that,” McKinney said.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of treated seed corn to produce ethanol if the byproducts are deemed unsafe to be fed to cattle or applied to the land.

“I support ethanol 100 percent. But treated seed corn is just not something that there – I don’t think we should be using, if we can’t dispose of it properly. And it’s not being disposed of properly,” Bostelman said.

Bostelman said the bill stems from a situation at the AltEn ethanol plant in Mead, which uses seed corn that’s been treated with pesticides and fungicides. Residents have complained about the odor from leftovers. Bostelman said that’s improved, but there are still concerns about water contamination. A call to the company for comment was not immediately answered.

Sen. Adam Morfeld talked about a bill he introduced last week that would allow cities and counties to declare a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures in response to a public health emergency. Morfeld said it’s a response to conditions in the current pandemic.

“I introduced this legislation because there’s a lot of people, one, being evicted and then two, there’s a lot of folks with homes or investment properties like rental units that are struggling – struggling to pay their bills. So I wanted to be sure that we protected both renters and homeowners and landlords,” Morfeld said.

Morfeld’s bill would not relieve people of debt, but would give them up to six months after the moratorium ended to catch up on payments. He said cities and counties would have to evaluate how serious the situation is, locally.

“A lot of landlords and other folks reached out to me and said ‘Okay this is great… but I still have tax payments, so we also put a moratorium on that. So that’s something that the local county board or city needs to be thinking about if they put one of these in place, is, they need to be weighing the cost-benefit analysis on their end, too,” he said.