The World-Herald’s Statehouse reporters round up news highlights from the Legislature and state government into the Capitol Digest — a daily briefing for the political newshound with a busy schedule.
Slavery ban. Nebraska voters will get a chance to ban all slavery in the state, including as punishment for a crime. State lawmakers voted 44-0 on Thursday to put Legislative Resolution 1CA on the 2020 ballot. The measure, introduced by State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would remove an exception to the state’s prohibition of slavery.
The exception, which dates to 1875, allows involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. The exception supported a post-Civil War practice known as convict leasing, in which prisoners were leased out to provide labor for farms, roads and other projects. Leased convicts were used in Nebraska up until 1940.
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Veteran licenses. More military veterans could get that designation added to their driver’s licenses or state identification cards under LB 192, passed 45-0 on Thursday. The bill, introduced by Sen. John McCollister of Omaha, would allow people who served in the military reserves or the National Guard to get the designation.
Veterans must register with the State Department of Veterans Affairs and provide a copy of their military discharge to get the designation. The option has been available since 2014 for other veterans. Supporters said the designation could help veterans qualify for various discounts offered by businesses.
Property tax requests. Schools, counties and other local governments would have to hold a public hearing and pass a resolution to collect more property taxes in an upcoming budget year under LB 103, passed 47-0 on Thursday.
Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha introduced the bill to make governments more accountable for budget and tax decisions.
Under the bill, governments would have to hold hearings anytime they sought more property tax dollars, whether the increase resulted from higher property valuations or from a higher property tax levy. The bill specifies what information must be provided in published notices of the public hearing.
Home brewers. Unlicensed home brewers could offer their products at certain public events under LB 235, passed on a 45-0 vote Thursday. The bill, introduced by Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue, would provide an exemption from state liquor laws.
The exemption would apply to clearly marked homemade wine, cider, beer, mead, perry or other alcoholic beverages, if offered at no cost to the home brewer’s family and friends or at exhibitions, festivals, tastings and competitions.
Family and sick leave. The Business and Labor Committee has advanced a pair of bills aimed at helping employees who get sick or have to take leave to care for family members.
LB 311, which the committee approved 4-2, would create a paid family and medical leave insurance program similar to unemployment insurance. The new program would be funded by employer payments and would partially reimburse employees for wages lost when taking family and medical leave.
LB 305, which advanced on a 4-0 vote, would require employers with four or more employees to provide at least one hour of paid sick and safe leave for every 30 hours worked. The leave could be used for an employee’s illness, a family member’s illness or absences needed to deal with domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
Jailhouse witnesses. County attorney’s offices would be required to track the use of jailhouse witness testimony, including any benefits received, under a bill heard Wednesday by the Judiciary Committee.
LB 352 is an attempt to cut down on false jailhouse witness testimony, which proponents of the bill say is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. Jailhouse witnesses — inmates who testify about the statements of fellow inmates — might seek or expect leniency in their own cases in exchange for the information they provide.
Such testimony would have to be disclosed by the prosecution to the defense within 30 days. Judges would be required to hold a hearing before the trial to decide whether the testimony is admissible.
The bill has supporters on both sides of the aisle. It is based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group, and was introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, a Democrat.
Corey O’Brien, a prosecutor in the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, testified against the bill. He noted that judges, juries and defense attorneys already serve a role in determining the reliability of testimony.
— Martha Stoddard and Aaron Hegarty