LINCOLN — A controversial bill to end mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers reached the final round of debate Wednesday, despite yet another effort in the Nebraska Legislature to amend the proposal.
Legislative Bill 44 would give judges the option of sentencing young murderers to 40 years to life in prison. Nebraska law currently requires a life sentence without parole for such killers, an approach that the U.S. Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional in a ruling last summer.
The bill touched off a debate two weeks ago because it originally proposed a 30-year minimum sentence, which some senators argued was too little punishment for murder. In a compromise, the minimum term was amended to 40 years, which under state sentencing guidelines means that an inmate would be eligible for parole after serving 20 years.
During second-round consideration Wednesday, Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha proposed an amendment to change how often parole hearings must be held for young killers.
Under the bill, such hearings would be held annually after an inmate became eligible for early release. Harr suggested that the hearings be held every five years to lessen the emotional trauma on the families of murder victims, many of whom feel obligated to attend parole hearings.
Inmates convicted as adults must wait five years between hearings if they are denied parole.
But Harr withdrew the amendment, saying he would work with the bill's sponsor, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, to see if his concerns can be addressed before final reading.
The Legislature on Wednesday advanced the bill to the third and final round on a voice vote.
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