A bill that would require all counties in the state to appoint a lawyer for youths in juvenile court was unable to reach a vote Wednesday. 

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks was attempting what she couldn't accomplish last year. She wanted attorneys appointed in all counties for youths who commit crimes. Last year, she was able to pass a bill that affected only the three largest Nebraska counties -- Lancaster, Douglas and Sarpy. 

This year's bill (LB158) may or may not come back again for debate. With a practice enacted by Speaker Jim Scheer, if a bill can't muster a majority vote on first round in three hours, the Legislature moves on until the introducer can show she or he has a majority of votes. 

This year, as last year, the resistance to Pansing Brooks' proposal came from rural senators who said kids were getting attorneys in their counties and it wasn't a problem. 

It would increase costs for rural counties, said Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard. 

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte called the bill nothing more than a lawyer employment bill. 

Pansing Brooks this time found a way for counties to pay for attorneys for youths, with the creation of a Juvenile Indigent Defense Fund paid for with $400,000 taken from the Supreme Court Automation Cash Fund.

An email from Corey Steel, Nebraska state court administrator, said the courts supported efforts for juveniles to have the right to counsel. But they opposed taking money from the Supreme Court fund unless a $1 court fee was added to fund it. The fund is used to pay for the courts' information technology system.

The bill would expand the current state law to require that all youths in a juvenile court be appointed an attorney. If the juvenile and their parent couldn't afford an attorney, it would require the court to appoint an attorney at county expense unless the juvenile waives the right to counsel.

Use of the fund by counties would be administered by the Commission on Public Advocacy, and would be triggered if the county's per capita juvenile court costs increased in the preceding three fiscal years.

Supporters of the bill said the right to an attorney is a constitutional one. Life-changing decisions are made in juvenile court, they said, and kids need to be represented and advised by an attorney. 

In many counties, according to data from the courts and probation administration, less than 60 percent of juveniles have access to counsel in court.

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

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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