Hunt Wants Info From AG on Capitol March; Bills Include Meatpacking Safety, Government Efficiency, Doxing,

Jan. 11, 2021, 4:36 p.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol dome (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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A state senator is demanding information on the Nebraska attorney general’s involvement with a group that encouraged last week’s march on the U.S. Capitol that turned violent, but the attorney general’s office says he was unaware of that activity. And senators introduced bills in the Legislature dealing with everything from meatpacking safety and government efficiency to doxing.

NBC News reported last week the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the fundraising arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, sent out robocalls the day before the march saying “At 1 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal.” The calls did not advocate violence, NBC reported.

Sen. Megan Hunt said she filed a public records request with the office of Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson Sunday asking whether any public funds were used to promote the march, which turned violent. In the Legislature Monday, Hunt said the issue is important.

“If public funds have been used to support, encourage and organize the march and the riot at the capitol last Wednesday, then people deserve to know if public funds had anything to do with that. It’s a completely valid request and it deserves diligence to be investigated,” Hunt said.

In response, Peterson’s office referred to a statement it put out Sunday. It said Peterson did not become aware of the robocalls until the day after the riot, and he did not condone or agree with them. In a statement last week, Peterson called the Capitol riot an “affront to the principles of the Constitution,” adding while those principles included freedom to protest, “lawlessness by any individual or organization cannot be tolerated.”

The statement also said there are no public records related to Hunt’s request; no dues are paid to the Republican Attorneys General Association, and the governor had nothing to do with the matter, something else Hunt asked about.

Hunt questioned the response, saying it would have been impossible to do a thorough check in the few hours that elapsed between her request and the statement that was issued.

Also in the Legislature Monday, senators continued to introduce new bills. Among them was a proposal by Sen. Tony Vargas he said was designed to protect meatpacking workers from COVID-19. In a zoom call, Vargas said the proposal would put into law practices that have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Vargas said those include “a six-foot radius of space around each worker, regular access to clean PPE (personal protective equipment) and handwashing stations, regular cleaning of shared equipment, temperature checks, paid sick leave for workers who contract COVID-19 and assurances that they will not face any penalties for missing work and sharing information about the number of cases with appropriate government agencies and legislative committees.”

The proposed requirements would be enforced by the Nebraska Department of Labor.

Sen. Tom Briese introduced legislation to require the Department of Administrative Services to contract with an independent company to audit the efficiency of state government operations. Briese said his goal is not to cut necessary services, but make sure they’re delivered in a cost-efficient manner. He acknowledged Gov. Pete Ricketts has already focused on improving the workings of state government, and the Legislature has a Performance Audit Committee that also examines such issues. But Briese said the study he’s proposing would not duplicate those efforts.

“I think there’s always room for improvement. And this would be an outside, independent audit, (a) fresh set of eyes looking from the outside, looking into how operations are conducted, how the government is ran, how our agencies are run, and looking for new ideas here,” Briese said.

Briese estimated the cost of the audit at $2 million to $4 million, adding similar efforts in other states have saved many times that much.

And Sen. Adam Morfeld introduced legislation to combat so-called “doxing” and swatting. He described doxing as posting someone’s name, address and information with intent to commit a criminal offense.

Morfeld said his bill would not prevent reporting the news, including giving people information on how to contact their representatives. He pointed to language in the bill creating an exception for providing information “in connection with lawful and constitutionally protected activity as it pertains to speech, assembly and petition.” But he gave an example of what he said it would prevent.

“What it would prevent is, for instance, somebody that says -- and we’ve seen this online, but – somebody that posts online a picture of an individual, their name and their address and say ‘Go teach them a lesson or ‘Go tell them how you feel, and bring your guns,’ or whatever the case may be, it would prevent that type of intimidation, reckless disregard, and unlawful activity,” Morfeld said.

The bill also seeks to prevent “swatting,” or filing a false report to try and get law enforcement, such as a SWAT team, to respond.

“We don’t want to put law enforcement folks in the position where they’re unknowingly a part of a person that has a criminal intent to send them busting down the door of somebody they think is dangerous but has done absolutely nothing wrong,” Morfeld said.

False reporting is already a crime but the bill would enhance penalties if someone is killed or seriously injured in the response to such a report.