Lawmakers Advance Minor Bail Reform Bill

March 7, 2020, 6:45 a.m. ·

Lancaster County Corrections Center (Becca Costello, NET News)

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Nebraska Lawmakers advanced a bill this week that would make changes to the criminal bail system in the state, but the impact would be minor.

Sen. Matt Hansen’s bill eliminates cash bail for the lowest level misdemeanors and city ordinances – with a long list of exceptions where a judge could still set a cash bond.

Hansen says it’s not designed to make wholesale changes, just to correct inefficiencies in the court system.

The measure advanced 33-0 as an amendment along with several other criminal justice related issues.

Sen. Mike Groene, one of 16 senators who abstained from voting, spoke just after the vote.

"I’m getting tired of 'poor, innocent criminals,'" Groene said. "They did the crime and we release them without bond. Why would you change your behavior?"

Sen. Ernie Chambers pointed out all persons charged with a crime are legally innocent until proven guilty.

The measure excludes charges related to driving under the influence and violence against an intimate partner. And a judge could still require cash bail if the person had failed to appear in court in the past six months.

The change would apply to very few people. In Lancaster County, for example, an estimated 20 people are incarcerated on a charge included in the bill – out of a total jail population of 620.

Lancaster County Public Defender Joe Nigro says it’s a positive change, but he wants to see much more comprehensive reform

"I think money bond is immoral, and I think that around the country people are recognizing that and moving away from it."

Nigro says he’ll go back to lawmakers next year to advocate for broader reform.

Sen. Chambers introduced a bill last year to eliminate cash bail in the state. It did not pass out of committee.