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They call it "Castle Doctrine light."

It's the new version of a bill (LB804) that would address the use of deadly force against an intruder in a house or car, heard Wednesday by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.

With the bill, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, the use of force, including deadly force, is presumed to be necessary for defense against a person unlawfully entering or present in a home or vehicle.

Lautenbaugh said the bill clarifies the rights of people to protect themselves in their homes and cars, and that it is not criminal conduct if the factors apply. It also offers immunity from civil liability.

But Judiciary Committee member Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha said current law already allows for deadly force if a person believes he or she is in immediate danger of harm, death or sexual assault.

In fact, the bill may complicate rather than clarify things, she said.

Daniel Carey, representing the National Rifle Association, said the NRA supported the bill. People should be able to react to threatening situations, he said, without having to worry that if they used deadly force, they would be criminally or civilly prosecuted.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop questioned whether the bill would create an unintended consequence. The rules aren't changing on whether a person can or cannot use deadly force, he said. But the presumption that the force was justified could be overcome in court, he said.

It doesn't stop a person from being charged or from being judged by the same standard used today, Lathrop said. But some people might believe the proposed bill protects them.

"It may give a sense of comfort to people, and they may think they're OK, when in fact, they're not," he said.

Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill questioned whether there actually is a problem that people are being sued for defending themselves from intruders in their homes.

"You said you're trying to solve a problem, and I'm sitting here wondering how big of a problem this really is," she said.

It has happened in a number of states, said bill proponent Rod Moeller of Omaha.

"If we know that it happens around the country, do we really believe that Nebraska is so different from the rest of the country?" he asked.

Opponents of the bill pointed out its ambiguity.

David Baker, deputy chief of the Omaha Police Department, said the exception in the bill too easily could be misused to provide a defense for criminal homicide or assault. It lowers the bar for the use of deadly force.

There's nothing in the bill that says you could not shoot a person as he or she is exiting but still in your home, he said.

"It essentially makes criminal trespass a capital offense," he said.

The police department strongly believes in the Second Amendment, he said.

"However, in this particular case, it's far too easy to go over the lower bar in this type of situation ... where you don't have witnesses, where you could create evidence of forcible entry," he said.

The Nebraska County Attorney's Association also opposed the bill as drafted.

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Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.

 

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