“The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen.” This inscription is on the north side of your State Capitol. It serves to remind us all to be aware, involved, and engaged in business within that touches our lives at home. It should also serve to call lawmakers and governing bodies to be transparent and accountable to the people we serve.
That is why I introduced LB1167. I introduced the Bill after hearing from numerous individuals and organizations that have felt disenfranchised and unable to testify at public meetings. Under LB1167, you and your neighbors can be heard at meetings of governing bodies that make decisions that impact you. LB1167 makes two simple changes within the Open Meetings Act.
The changes are simple. The message is clear:
- If you have been elected by the people; and/or
- If you are able to decide how to spend the people’s money;
- Then, you are expected to listen to the people.
Members of the public deserve it and this change requires it.
There was a Committee Hearing on LB1167 on Thursday, February 20. Prior to the hearing, there were a number of letters and emails supporting LB1167 sent to the Chair of the Committee. There were no letters in opposition. Ten people and organizations testified in favor of LB1167. Most spoke of times when they or their members were kept from testifying at government meetings. Some spoke of being frustrated when the process for them to speak was made difficult or impossible. Five people testified against the Bill. The five were from school, city, county, or NRD government bodies. They primarily testified that the governing bodies they represented either were okay with people testifying, as long as the body knew what the speaker would talk about in advance of “allowing” them to be put on the agenda for a future meeting and/or were afraid that open public comment might result in personnel or others being falsely accused by a testifier.
I believe the opponents’ fear of public testimony is misplaced. In fact, the changes presented in LB1167 do NOT disturb the ability of governing bodies to make and enforce reasonable rules and regulations regarding the conduct of persons attending and/or speaking at their meetings. In other words, a governing body could schedule public comment for a defined period at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the meeting. The governing body could define the number of minutes each person could testify.
To be clear, the goal of LB1167 is to ensure that governing bodies recognize they are servants of the people and honor that position, along with honoring the First Amendment right of individuals to petition their government, and to honor the Open Meeting Act’s instruction that that “the public has the right to attend and the right to speak at meetings of public bodies.”
In summary, people have the right to be heard. People have the right to petition their government. LB1167 provides clarity, uniformity, and reassurance that Nebraska respects and honors those rights.
Priority Bills. Friday brought the deadline for designation of Priority Bills. Committees are able to designate two Priority Bills and each Senator is able to designate one Priority Bill for the Session. This Session, I considered a number of Bills before choosing mine. Among the bills I considered were those that protect Farmers and further economic development and I was pleased to see Committees and other Senators prioritize those Bills.
Eventually, I designated LB1186 as my Priority Bill. This Bill was introduced by Senator Mike Hilgers and allows me to prioritize my care for and appreciation of teachers throughout the State. As introduced, this bill fills in a gap for teachers who are injured by an assault while on the job. Currently, teachers who are assaulted and are unable to work due to injuries from that assault are not paid injury leave to compensate them for the seven days before workers’ compensation benefits kick in. LB1186 requires that teachers or school employees injured by such assaults be paid their usual salary for those seven days. I was frankly surprised that this was not already happening. Our teachers serve our children. If they are injured by assault while doing so, our schools should make sure they are not penalized financially by the school where they serve.
Red Flag Law. There has been a lot of communication from members of District 17 and other members of the public concerning LB58, the Extreme Risk Protection Ask, otherwise known as the Red Flag Law affecting gun rights. I have tried to respond to each and want to make sure my position on this type of legislation is known to residents of District 17. I, and many of my colleagues are strong advocates of Second Amendment rights. I agree with Senator Tom Brewer that “[t]the bill, LB58, would create a new legal process for government seizure of firearms without any criminal prosecution, criminal conviction, or finding of mental illness.” I oppose LB58 and any similar legislation.
As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at email@example.com