State lawmakers have advanced a bill to do away with mandatory minimum prison sentences and the habitual criminal statute, over the objections of the state Attorney General and county prosecutors.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha sponsors LB 173, telling colleagues many of the “tough on crime” moves by the legislature in the past have been ineffective.
“One of the worst things that was done was to jump on the bandwagon and join that fad of so-called mandatory minimum sentences,” Chambers stated during legislative floor debate.
The origin version of LB 173 overturned the habitual criminal statute, which allows judges to tack on another 10 years to the prison sentences of repeat offenders. An amendment adopted during legislative debate added language that would overturn mandatory minimum sentences in favor of giving discretion to judges in sentencing.
Chambers argued during debate that minimum sentences and the habitual criminal statute have done nothing to reduce crime.
“It has made no difference, whatsoever,” Chambers asserted.
Other lawmakers disagreed.
Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft said she worries doing away with the laws will make Nebraska less safe.
“I do have concerns that crime is rising, not just in Nebraska, but across the nation,” Brasch said.
Attorney General Doug Peterson announced during a news conference at the Capitol he opposed getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences and the habitual criminal statute. He and country prosecutors have lobbied against the measure.
Still, the bill advanced on a 28-to-9 vote with 10 state senators not voting.
That wouldn’t be enough to overcome a likely veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts.