The Nebraska Legislature is a funny place. Forty-nine senators get together for a few months each year and they introduce legislation, passing some, defeating some. Presumably, all 49 senators are good people who want to make things better for Nebraskans.
In actuality, they flounder between good ideas and bad, tripping over one another’s good intentions.
Last September, people from the registry community testified at a hearing for an interim study on registry issues. We felt hopeful that we had made clear our position: the registry doesn’t help when it comes to public safety but it is insanely effective at making jobs, housing, and relationships difficult for people listed there.
Yes, we felt hopeful. Senator Megan Hunt agreed to let us quote her on the Nebraskans Unafraid blog, from an email that said things like “the sex offender registry does more harm than good” and “the registry is not effective” and even “I don’t support strengthening or promoting the sex offender registry in Nebraska because I have seen that it does not accomplish the outcomes we want, for children or for offenders.”
Senator Steve Lathrop, chair of the Judiciary Committee who invited the registry community to testify at the September interim study hearing, introduced an amendment (AM 3066) to LB 881. The original LB 881 was all about criminal justice reform and had nothing to do with the registry until that amendment was introduced and passed. Lathrop’s amendment created new crimes for the registry.
LB 881 with its amendment passed on August 3, 30-8-11.
The new crimes? It is now illegal for a school employee to have sex with or sexually assault or to groom a student between the ages of 16 and 19 for the purposes of having sex. Nevermind that sexual assault–of child and adult alike–is already illegal. Nevermind that enticement of a child is already illegal. Sex between two consenting people, a 20-year-old school janitor and an 18-year-old student, for example, will be criminalized if the governor signs the bill.
That’s what happened. Someone we thought understood why the registry is bad, introduced legislation that adds new crimes to the registry. Senator Megan Hunt, she of the brave quotes above, voted for that legislation.
When asked why Senator Lathrop introduced AM 3066, his staff replied that he was under great pressure to pass one of the four bills already introduced to do something about teachers having sex with students. We were told that the Senator was worried that one of those four bills would be taken out of the hands of the Judiciary Committee and so he put together an amendment that incorporated the least harsh pieces of the four original bills.
Senator Hunt was asked why she voted for LB 881 and has not yet responded.
There is plenty of room for suspicion that AM 3066 was attached to LB 881 to give the Legislature a tricky choice: Vote for LB 881 to make sure you don’t look soft on sex crimes or vote against LB 881 because you don’t like the original bill and risk being called out for not caring about students.
Using sex crimes as leverage to pass unrelated legislation is not square dealing. This is why we each need to pay attention to the Legislature. Because those senators can be downright fools and their foolishness causes damage.
Omaha FEARLESS groups meet online at 9 a.m. Saturday, August 8, and again at 7 p.m. on Monday, August 17.
No topic is set for the Saturday, August 8 meeting, but we’ll be there online for anyone who wants to check in.
Spike Eickholt, the lobbyist for both the Nebraska ACLU and the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, will be our guest speaker on August 17.
If you wish to attend FEARLESS online, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the date of the meeting you wish to attend in the body text, your full name and a physical mailing address that we can verify. When we have verified your information, we will send you the sign-in credentials you will need to attend the meeting. We apologize but this process is necessary for the safety and security of individuals who attend FEARLESS.