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Bill on police standards boards across Nebraska will be introduced
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Bill on police standards boards across Nebraska will be introduced

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Early Morning Protest

Law enforcement officers stand at the entrance to the County-City Building on May 31 during a night of clashes between police and protesters.

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne succeeded Thursday in getting enough votes to allow him to introduce a bill on creating police standards boards in the few days left in the legislative session.

After a long debate, the motion to suspend the rules and allow for a bill to be introduced after the 10-day period that falls at the beginning of the session, the Legislature voted 32-4, with four conservative senators voting against the motion — Sens. Joni Albrecht, Curt Friesen, Mike Hilgers and Steve Erdman.

The bill will be introduced and expected to have a hearing next week in front of the Urban Affairs Committee. The board will then decide whether to send it to the floor for debate.

The Municipal Police Oversight Act would require each city or village in Nebraska that employs full-time police officers to appoint a citizen oversight board to monitor, investigate and evaluate police standards and practices. It would go into effect Jan. 1.

"This is about being compassionate to a community's needs," Wayne said. "The community that I represent, that other people represent in east Omaha, is looking for some leadership on this issue."

They want proper oversight of police and to build community and police relationships, he said.

Friesen, of Henderson, who voted against the motion, said sometimes the Legislature reacts to emotions rather than thoughtful debate. And with only a few days left in the session with heavy topics to discuss, it would be hard to get it done before the end.

People in Nebraska communities and across the country are crying out for conversations on racial justice, said Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, and these are not fleeting, they are necessary.

Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, who chairs the Executive Board and opposed the motion, said a rushed process is not the right approach.

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks asked senators if they thought waiting until January to introduce such a bill, that wouldn't go into effect until a year from now, would make the people happy. 

"Why not make an effort to show our ears are open, we are listening to the concerns of some Nebraskans that have spoken out loudly. Four months is too long. I would have changed my priorities, a number of us would have, had we known what we know now," Pansing Brooks said.

Speaker Jim Scheer started out the debate leaning against the motion but changed his mind, he said, because Wayne could have gone about getting the bill introduced multiple ways and he chose to use the rules the way he was supposed to.

Saying that, he said it happens way too little that senators are flexible in deciding how to vote on a bill or a motion.

"It is OK to change your mind," he said. "It is OK to listen to discussion and make your decision.

"And as we go forward in the rest of this session, I hope that all of us will put (aside) our preconceived ideas, our impressions of different bills simply because of what we've been told or what we think. If we are going to accomplish great things in the last 14 days, we have to start acting as individuals. Not as units of some group, or some lobby. … Let's open our minds and be receptive to what is said on the floor."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature

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