Trooper Brienne Splittgerber told a legislative committee Monday she had always wanted to be a Nebraska state trooper, a legacy, and to become a criminal investigator.
Then she experienced how the patrol administration handled a pre-employment physical in which she said the doctor performed a medically unnecessary and sexually exploitative exam.
"I knew what happened to me and many others was wrong. It felt wrong. I felt violated," she said.
She told her supervisor and was assured it would be taken care of, she told the Business and Labor Committee in testimony on a bill (LB791) that would remove patrol sergeants from the troopers' collective bargaining unit and place them in the supervisors unit. It would also remove trooper disciplinary and investigative procedures from the scope of collective bargaining.
Splittgerber did not receive a single phone call, email or text from the administration about her complaint, she said. And, meanwhile, that administration sent the next two State Patrol classes to the same doctor's office.
Splittgerber told the committee that she explained to a sergeant what had happened, and he put her in touch with the union. She finally felt like she was being heard, she said, and that someone cared.
"Sergeants are the ones who go to bat for us and have our backs. Taking our sergeants out of our contract would eliminate their protection," Splittgerber said.
Because the patrol administration mishandled the physical exam incident, she filed a lawsuit. She feels her career has been ruined. So when her husband was offered a job somewhere else, they decided the stress, lack of respect and transparency, retaliation, chauvinism and disrespect of females weren't worth staying in the patrol. She's leaving the agency, she said.
She and others testified about why the sergeants should remain with the bargaining unit.
Sgt. J.J. Pedersen, who has held that rank nearly 2 1/2 years, said he took a reduction in pay to become a sergeant, but knew it would be worth it over the long term. If he is removed from the bargaining unit, he said, the long-term benefit would be gone.
Administrators cannot negotiate for wage protection, but have only "meet and confer" rights, he said. There are 62 sergeants in the agency and 340 troopers.
Being in with administrators means he would be surpassed in pay by troopers with the same seniority within two years. It would also be bad for the agency to see a reduction in coverage by sergeants who could not work holidays or overtime, he said.
Gary Young, attorney for the bargaining unit, also opposed the bill. He said that during the last contract negotiations, in 2016, the governor's office wanted to remove sergeants for financial reasons.
"We negotiated with the governor in good faith. We made concessions to have that piece removed from the table. And the governor agreed with us and signed the deal," Young said.
Two months after the contract went into effect in 2017, the state was talking about going back on that agreement, he said.
"So I feel like we've been treated with bad faith in negotiations on the table," he said.
Jason Jackson, chief human resources officer for the state, said the sergeants should not be part of the bargaining unit because they often have to serve as investigators for complaints against troopers, such as lack of courtesy, unlawful use of force or dishonesty. They have an inherent conflict of interest in conducting a fair and thorough investigation, he said.
Those testifying in favor of the bill seemed most interested in the section that would remove disciplinary and investigative procedures from collective bargaining.
Darrell Fisher, executive director of the state Crime Commission, which certifies and withdraws certification of law enforcement officers, said it would be important for the commission to be allowed to subpoena investigative files of troopers and officers that have been disciplined because of wrongdoing. The commission can't do that now because it is part of the bargained contract.
The state has to do a better job of policing law enforcement, Fisher said. The commission has eight revocation complaints it can't do anything about because the files are not available, unless an officer signs a waiver, he said.
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers has long complained that police officers, troopers and sheriff's deputies have been dismissed from law enforcement agencies in Nebraska, only to be hired by another one somewhere else in the state or outside the state.
Jackson took the opportunity at the hearing to unleash a list of union complaints that became apparent in a review of the State Patrol last summer. He accused the union of undermining transparency and accountability.
He believed the union would be a partner with the state in such things as strengthening sexual harassment provisions, he said, but each time the state reached out it was met with what he called "obstruction and deliberate indifference."