April 1, 2015

All clear given at Capitol after abandoned briefcase deemed harmless

Empty Capitol Rotunda, cleared by State Patrol troopers after suspicious package found in hallway

Empty Capitol Rotunda, cleared by State Patrol troopers after suspicious package found in hallway

An abandoned briefcase in a hallway at the state Capitol caused quite a stir and delayed the afternoon session of the Unicameral until testing concluded it was harmless.

The Nebraska State Patrol reports its Hazardous Devices Squad worked with Lincoln Fire and Rescue to examine the briefcase which initially was deemed suspicious.

The briefcase has been returned to its owner.

Schoolchildren visiting the Unicameral noticed the briefcase abandoned in a south hallway of the Capitol near the legislative chamber shortly after the legislature had left for its lunch break. Troopers assigned to the Capitol investigated. An initial x-ray failed to clear the briefcase. It took further testing before the all clear was given.

Troopers roped off the hallway, locked down the legislative chamber, and cleared the Rotunda for about an hour.

The Hazardous Devices Squad was preparing to render the briefcase safe when the owner was found. After a search discovered no hazardous devices or materials, the briefcase was returned to its owner.

Concerns raised over bill to increase state gas tax

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts continues to oppose LB 610, a bill that would increase the state’s gas taxes by six-cents a gallon. Governor Rickets says there are many other options. He says a national job search is underway to find someone to help us with the Dept. of Roads, how to construct them; compare per lane mile VS Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas. He adds that the state needs to be looking at tax relief and not at adding more taxes.

LB 610 was introduced by Papillion State Senator Jim Smith and he disagrees with Governor Ricketts’ opinion. He says the state is running out of options.

Senator Smith says, “Roughly one-tenth of our road miles and less than 25% of our bridges are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Roads – the state. The vast majority of our roads and bridges belong to the cities and the counties and they are becoming more and more dependent on property tax and wheel tax to satisfy the needs.”

Senator Smith says the new Department of Roads director would have no jurisdiction over city and county roads and that is where the greatest needs are. He says one in four of Nebraska’s rural bridges are obsolete or structurally deficient and those are problems that need addressed now.

Senator Smith says there are three options to the problem; borrow money, compete with general fund dollars or increase the gas tax.

Unrepentant Chambers lashes out at critics in the Unicameral (AUDIO)

Sen. Ernie Chambers leans against the legislative desks as Sen. Beau McCoy talks

Sen. Ernie Chambers leans against the legislative desks as Sen. Beau McCoy addresses the Unicameral

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha not only refused Monday to apologize for anti-police remarks he made during a committee meeting, he turned on his critics in the Unicameral.

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha took to the legislative floor for a third day Monday, commenting on Chambers’ controversial remarks. [see previous story]

“I think it’s reprehensible and our law enforcement and the people of Nebraska deserve an apology,” McCoy stated.

Chambers did much more than reject the suggestion.

“With a quote from Santa Claus: ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho,” Chambers chortled loudly, “It’s the funniest, silliest, most childish, asinine, juvenile mess of rubbish that I’ve heard since I’ve been in the legislature.”

Chambers compared police to the Islamic State and stated that if he were to carry a weapon and were confronted by police he would shoot first and ask questions later. During a series of monologues delivered during debate on Monday, Chambers claimed he was using an analogy and implied that his fellow legislators weren’t intelligent enough to know it.

Chambers also claimed no youth in his legislative district would conclude Chambers is telling them it is alright to shoot police officers.

“See, I forget I’m not talking to the intelligent children in my district, I’m dealing with unintelligent children in this chamber,” Chambers stated.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

AUDIO:  Sen. Ernie Chambers initial response during Monday’s legislative debate. [5 min.]

Undetermined change in legislative term limits advances

A proposal for the people to vote once again on legislative term limits advances in the Unicameral, though the change is up in the air.

The sponsor of the constitutional amendment says he will settle on a plan during the next round of debate.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus says the Unicameral first needed to decide whether it favors change before considering what that change might be.

Schumacher says legislators will decide whether to ask voters to approve three, four-year term limits or two, six-year term limits during the next round of debate.

The constitutional amendment, LR 7 CA, would have no effect on current state senators, only future members of the Unicameral.

Currently, legislators are limited to two, four-year terms though they can run again after sitting out a term.

State senators debating term limits, again (AUDIO)

Sen. Paul Schumacher/Photo courtesy Unicameral Information Office

Sen. Paul Schumacher/Photo courtesy Unicameral Information Office

State senators are debating whether voters should be asked to make an adjustment to their term limits.

Well, not exactly their term limits.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus tells colleagues his constitutional amendment, LR 7 CA, would have no effect on any of them, only future lawmakers who would see the limit of two, four-terms expanded to two, six-year terms.

“This question should be presented to the voters,” Schumacher tells colleagues during floor debate. “It’s their decision and it’s the only way they’re going to get to make it.”

Many senators back the change, stating experience is needed to be effective in the Unicameral. They argue a maximum of eight years doesn’t provide the time needed to adequately represent the people of Nebraska.

Others disagree.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte notes he served as the treasurer of Nebraskans Against Amendment Three: Save Term Limits, which campaigned against the last proposed change to legislative term limits. Nebraskans defeated that measure by a 65% to 35% margin, though proponents of the latest suggested change are quick to point out that measure also had a salary increase attached to it.

Groene says he has become even more convinced that term limits work since becoming a member of the Unicameral.

“Eight years you stay closer to the people than you do the institution,” Groene tells colleagues. “Yes, this is a great institution, but it doesn’t exist for the sake of the institution. It exists for the sake of the citizens of Nebraska.”

Current legislative term limits limit state senators to two consecutive four-year terms. After serving eight years, senators can run for re-election after sitting out a term.

The controversy that erupted over remarks made by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha sidetracked debate on the issue. Legislators might well return to the issue today.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]