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.
Beatrice Six judgment. Gage County could impose a half-cent sales tax to help pay a $28 million judgment owed to six wrongly convicted people under LB 472, passed on a vote of 43-6 Thursday. The bill was introduced by State Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams in response to a federal court judgment won by the so-called Beatrice Six.
The six, convicted in a 1985 slaying, collectively spent more than 70 years in prison before DNA testing identified another person as the killer. The case was one of the largest examples of wrongful confession and coerced testimony in the nation’s history.
Under LB 472, the county could impose the special sales tax only if its property tax levy was set at the maximum allowed under state law to pay off the judgment. The sales tax could be approved by a two-thirds vote of the County Board. The tax would end when the judgment is paid off, or after seven years, whichever comes first.
Tourism products. The Nebraska Tourism Commission got a step closer to being able to sell “Honestly, it’s not for everyone” T-shirts, coffee mugs and other promotional materials with passage of LB 637. Lawmakers gave 49-0 final approval to the bill, introduced by Sen. John Stinner of Gering.
The bill was passed with an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect as soon as it is signed by the governor and that sales could start in time for the summer travel season. The snarky new tourism slogan garnered national attention when it was unveiled last year.
North O development. Voters will decide whether to let communities use an enhanced tax incentive to encourage development in extremely blighted areas. Lawmakers voted 43-2 to put Legislative Resolution 14CA on the November 2020 ballot.
The proposed constitutional amendment would allow tax-increment financing for up to 20 years for projects in areas with high rates of unemployment and high rates of poverty. Currently, such financing is limited to 15 years.
Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha introduced the measure to boost economic development in north Omaha. It passed 49-0, as did Wayne’s LB 87, which would add federally designated opportunity zones to the priority sites for various state development programs.
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Jailhouse informants. A bill passed Thursday would require prosecutors to disclose information about jailhouse witnesses, including any leniency they will get for testifying and any recanted testimony in the past.
LB 352, introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, passed on a 48-1 vote. The measure attempts to cut down on false jailhouse witness testimony, which proponents of the bill say is the leading cause of wrongful convictions.
Under the bill, prosecutors would have to provide information to the defense about an inmate who may be called to testify about statements made by the person on trial. Prosecutors also would have to notify victims of crimes committed by the jailhouse witness if the witness is being offered a plea deal for testifying.
Drug prices. Health insurance plans could not bar people from paying the cash price for a prescription drug, if that price is less than the person’s co-pay, deductible or co-insurance amount, under LB 316, passed 49-0 on Thursday.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, also would prohibit pharmacy benefit management companies from penalizing pharmacists for informing customers about prescription cost options.
New Crime Commission director. Despite some concern that he lacked enough law enforcement background, Don Arp Jr. was confirmed Thursday by the Legislature as the new executive director of the Nebraska Crime Commission.
Former law enforcement officers have typically led the commission, which administers crime-fighting grants and standards for police officers, and state law requires that the director have “appropriate training and experience” in law enforcement.
But State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha called those standards “very vague,” and said that Arp’s background with technology might help upgrade the commission’s statistical work.
Immigrant rally. Young Nebraska immigrants rallied Thursday at the Capitol to urge support for federal legislation offering them the possibility of permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship.
The young people called on Nebraska’s congressional representatives to back the bills, which would provide security for people brought to the United States illegally as children and to people allowed to stay in the U.S. because of wars or natural disasters in their home countries.
The first group was allowed to stay and work under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, started under the Obama administration. The second group was allowed to stay through the Temporary Protected Status program. President Donald Trump has attempted to curtail both programs.
Conservation award. Russ, Angela and Cheyenne Sundstrom, who operate a ranch near Moorefield, Nebraska, were named the recipients of the 2019 Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award on Thursday.
The Sundstroms have used prescribed burning and innovative grazing techniques to restore and upgrade the pastures on their ranch, as well as to reduce invasive cedar trees.
The award is named after the famed conservationist Aldo Leopold and comes with a $10,000 award.
Meet the Nebraska state senators
Here are the 49 state senators of Nebraska's 106th Legislature. You can click here to find your state senator.
— Martha Stoddard and Paul Hammel