April 28, 2015

Death penalty opponents point to Beatrice 6 to make case (AUDIO)

Ada Joann Taylor speaks at a news conference at the Capitol

Ada Joann Taylor speaks at a news conference at the Capitol

Opponents of the death penalty believe they have a winning argument in Nebraska and it centers on the case of the Beatrice Six.

Six people arrested in connection with the rape and murder of 68-year-old Helen Wilson in her Beatrice home in 1985 were exonerated, but not until they spent a total of 77 years in prison. The six were convicted in 1989, largely due to their confessions to the crime.

Those confessions came under duress after hours of interrogation and the very real threat of execution.

“I think the object lessons we can take from the Beatrice Six case is that the threat of the death penalty did not serve the interest of justice,” Attorney Jeffry Patterson told reporters during a news conference held at the Capitol by the Nebraska Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project works to free inmates from prison through DNA evidence. It opposes the death penalty and points to the convictions of the Beatrice Six of evidence the justice system is too badly broken to decide life and death.

It was DNA evidence that led investigators away from the six convicted in the death of Wilson and to Bruce Allen Smith, a drifter who died in 1992.

DNA testing exonerated James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Joseph White and Thomas Winslow in 2008 and they were freed from prison.

Taylor appeared at the news conference and said she confessed after being threatened. Taylor claimed the sheriff, his deputies, and other law officers would harass her daily, insisting that they had no problem making her the first woman scheduled to die in the electric chair.

Taylor said the threats terrified her.

“It caused me, an innocent person, to plead and actually believe I was guilty of something I did not do,” Taylor said. “But, it’s not a good thing to send an innocent person to prison.”

State legislators advanced LB 268, a bill that would repeal the death penalty. Preliminary approval came on a 30-to-13 vote, just enough to overcome a veto promised by Gov. Pete Ricketts. That total, though, is not enough to overcome a filibuster which might be mounted by opponents during the second round of debate.

Nebraska had used the electric chair for executions until the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2009. The state switched to lethal injection. Nebraska last carried out an execution in 1997. Eleven prisoners now reside on death row.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:55]

Lawmakers ready to exit Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact

Amtrak photo

Amtrak photo

State lawmakers have moved closer to ending Nebraska’s participation in the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact, in three years.

The Unicameral has given preliminary approval to LB 317, which would end participation in the compact working to bring high-speed passenger rail service to the Midwest.

But not for three years.

Supporters of the bill complain the state pays $15,000 a year in dues to the compact and receives nothing for it.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, who attended a meeting of compact states last year, says there’s a reason Nebraska doesn’t see any benefit from it.

“Every other state that’s participating sends their leadership from their department of transportation there,” Nordquist tells colleagues during legislative floor debate. “They’re coordinating across state agencies and across the region and Nebraska has said, ‘We’re not going to show up.’”

Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins supports the move to leave the compact.

“There’s nothing tougher to kill than a government program,” Bloomfield asserts. “The only thing that comes close is our involvement in a multi-government program that does us no good. We’ve been trying to choke this turkey for the last five years that I’ve been here.”

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, had wanted to end participation immediately. He says the extension of three years gives supporters of the compact time to prove its worth.

The Unicameral would have to vote to return Nebraska to the compact.

Lawmakers move to ban powdered alcohol in Nebraska

State lawmakers have moved to ban powdered alcohol in Nebraska.

A liquor control bill, amended to ban the sale of powdered alcohol, has won preliminary approval on a 32-to-3 vote.

Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward succeeded in amending the bill to ban powdered alcohol from being sold in the state.

“It would be easy to smuggle this into schools or school-sponsored events,” Kolterman told colleagues during legislative floor debate. “If the product is on the shelf, just imagine a Kool-Aid type of container with a bourbon or a gin or a vodka or a Pina Colada; whatever you want.”

Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft agreed powdered alcohol can be easily abused.

“It is very problematic for child access, for overuse, multiple packets are used together, potential for an overdose, can be combined with other liquid spirts, easy to hide in prohibited events,” according to Brasch.

Legislators voted 27-8 to amend Legislative Bill 330 before giving it first-round approval.

The amendment doesn’t sit well with LB 330 sponsor, Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, who said during legislative floor debate the revision made to his bill is too broad.

“Just so the body knows, you just banned deodorant in the state of Nebraska with that amendment,” Larson stated, claiming that the language in the bill would cover much more than just powdered alcohol.

Powdered alcohol was among alcoholic products proposed for oversight by the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, but lawmakers banned the product instead.

Congressman Smith: tax reform still a priority (AUDIO)

Congressman Adrian Smith

Congressman Adrian Smith

Tax reform remains a priority of Congress, at least, according to Congressman Adrian Smith.

Smith insists tax reform hasn’t faded as an issue, even though numerous other issues have been bubbling to the surface in Washington.

Smith, who serves on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, sees much promise in federal tax reform. He says it could make American corporations more competitive around the world, ease the tax burden on small businesses and individuals, spur economic growth, and even lower the federal deficit through increased economic activity.

The newly Republican Congress and President Barack Obama, a Democrat, haven’t seemed to agree on much this session. Yet, Smith says tax reform could be an issue that brings the two together.

Smith notes President Obama seems more willing to work on tax reform than some assume.

“Well, there certainly is plenty of disagreement within the legislative branch alone, but the president has acknowledged that our corporate tax rate is very uncompetitive and really, I think, penalizes U.S. companies around the world,” Smith tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Smith says discussions must extend beyond the corporate tax rate. He points out many small business owners pay taxes through the individual income tax. Smith says tax reform would make things simpler for business and provide real benefits for individuals as well.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]

Smokeless medical marijuana bill clears committee (AUDIO)

MarijuanaA medical marijuana bill has cleared a committee and heads to the full legislature for debate, though it doesn’t look much like the bill that was introduced this session.

Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue still recognizes his bill, but.

“It’s gone through some remarkable transformations,” Garrett tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.

A re-shaped medical marijuana bill has been approved by the Judiciary Committee on a 7-to-1 vote.

Legislative Bill 643 now is modeled after Minnesota law, enacted last year.

“Quite frankly, I think the thing that was most appealing, and we were always amenable to this, I think the thing that was most appealing was the fact that it doesn’t allow smoking,” Garrett says.

Minnesota became the 22nd state to approve medicinal marijuana. The bill signed into law last year prohibit smoking marijuana.

Garrett says he is studying the changes to his bill and expects even more revisions once the bill hits the legislative floor for debate and amendment.

The bill would guide manufacturers on production of medical marijuana and set restrictions on its use. Medical cannabis could be taken in liquid form, through vapor, or by pill. Patients would have to be certified to use medical marijuana. The Department of Health and Human Services would write specific rules and regulations.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]