Proposals on Sexual Assault Survivors, Guns, and God Introduced; Ricketts Promises Growth Agenda

Jan. 10, 2019, 5:16 p.m. ·

Chief Justice Mike Heavican, left, swears in Gov. Pete Ricketts, right (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Senators introduced bills on everything from sexual assault to guns and God on the second day of the Legislature, and Governor Pete Ricketts talked about growing Nebraska, as he and other constitutional officers were sworn in to office.

Among more than 100 measures introduced Thursday was one by Sen. Kate Bolz outlining a “bill of rights” for survivors of sexual assault. Bolz says many of the rights already exist legally. She says her goal is to have medical and law enforcement personnel who respond to sexual assault inform survivors of their rights. She says those include “the right to have an advocate with you, as you go through medical procedures and that advocate can help you navigate the other systems.”

“You have a right to have a voice in criminal proceedings. You have a right to a shower. You have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. And those rights from what we hear from survivors aren’t always understood or respected,” she added.

Another measure, introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld, would create a so-called “red flag” law allowing firearms to be removed from a person found by a court to be an extreme risk of harming themselves or others. Morfeld says the bill would ensure people with severe mental illnesses do not have access to firearms, while protecting due process.

Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Erdman introduced a proposal to require schools to post the words “In God We Trust” in classrooms. Erdman says those words are the national motto, and putting them in front of students is important.

“One of the things that’s happened over a period of time is we have taken God out of everything. And the society we live in today is not as good as when we had school prayer and we had God in things. And our Constitution is based on the Bible, and so consequently “In God we Trust” is our motto. Put it up and let people see it,” he said.

Erdman’s bill also says that if anyone challenges it in court, the state attorney general will defend the school board or anyone else who is named as a defendant.

Sen. Ernie Chambers introduced a proposal once more to abolish the death penalty. The Legislature voted to abolish the death penalty in 2015. But supporters mounted a popular referendum drive to repeal that repeal, which voters agreed to in 2016.

Another proposal introduced Thursday, by Sen. Justin Wayne, would remove a reference to involuntary servitude, or slavery, from the Nebraska state constitution. The constitution currently prohibits slavery or involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime. Wayne says after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, such language was used to threaten former slaves with re-enslavement if they committed a crime.

Wayne said removing that language from the constitution would not affect the state’s ability to imprison people who commit crimes. “They will still go to prison. The question is, are we requiring them to perform slave labor or not?” he said.

“We shouldn’t be doing that as a state. I don’t think we are,” Wayne added. “My intention is simply that archaic language has no place in our constitution.”

Thursday afternoon, a swearing-ceremony was held for people elected, reelected or retained for various state offices. They included members of the Board of Regents, state Board of Education, Public Service Commission, Supreme Court, state auditor, attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state, lieutenant governor and governor.

Following his swearing in for a second term, Gov. Pete Ricketts gave a speech in which he promised to continue to promote efforts to develop the state’s economy. “The vision for my administration has been to grow Nebraska and help create those opportunities for our people. And I make my commitment here to you today that we will continue to focus on growing Nebraska for the next four years,” he said, to applause.

Ricketts cited success in attracting a number of projects, including a chicken processing plant in Fremont for warehouse retailer Costco. “Their new plant there will create 800 jobs in Fremont and the opportunity for 125 farmers to be able to put up poultry barns to be able to diversify their revenue, build equity in their operation and allow young people to come back to the family farm,” he said.

Costco has said the jobs in Fremont will pay between $15 and $17 an hour. Critics have said the state should not be giving tax incentives for companies to create relatively low-wage jobs.

A legislative task force headed by Sen. Sue Crawford has recommended ending the state’s main “Nebraska Advantage” tax incentive program this year, and replacing it with one emphasizing higher wages.

Asked about that at a news conference after his speech, Ricketts agreed with the general approach. “We need an incentive program, and I think everybody agrees this is a good opportunity for us to take a look at the Nebraska Advantage and update it. My priorities are going to be to have a system that is more simple, transparent, accountable, and I agree with Sen. Crawford, we should focus on higher-wage jobs.”

Critics have also said the structure of poultry-growing contracts leaves farmers shouldering a disproportionate share of risk in the form of debt for building expensive facilities. Ricketts says he has no second thoughts about the effort to lure Costco to the state. “That Costco facility will use the equivalent of 2,000 acres of corn and 2,000 acres of soybeans every week, and thus helping out those area farmers with their basis, giving them a market to sell to,” he said.

The governor promised more details on his proposal to help the state’s economy, including property tax relief, in his State of the State speech Tuesday.