The Nebraska Legislature has an important opportunity this session to require and provide much needed governmental accountability for its citizens. A series of Nebraska Supreme Court rulings have spotlighted a shortcoming in Nebraska law and two bills currently in the Legislature would provide much needed accountability.
Imagine the horror of learning that a child in your family has been molested by a teacher in your school district. Imagine that horror being compounded by the realization that the school board was alerted to danger signs about this teacher, but looked the other way because it just seemed like “too much trouble” to confront the problem.
Weak leaders in your school district decided to just take the chance that the district’s own Jerry Sandusky would restrain himself ... and now a child in your family has been victimized.
Imagine if your family decided to open your home to a foster child. In the spirit of generosity, your family seeks to share what you have been given with a less fortunate teen. Child protective services knows, but does not tell you, that this teen has a history of molesting other children in foster placements. The teen then sexually attacks your children. Your children’s lives are altered forever.
Imagine if a good friend has an adult child who, due to alcohol and drug addiction, makes poor decisions and must serve a short prison sentence while getting clean. While in prison, your friend’s child is beaten to death by another inmate. Your friend learns that prison employees from the line officers to the warden’s office knew that the inmate who murdered your friend’s child was threatening your friend’s child but did nothing to separate them.
In all of these situations, the Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled that Nebraskans cannot seek accountability for those catastrophic harms, including death and the lifelong effects of rape and molestation. In recent decisions, the Supreme Court has held that if state and local governments know they have a sexual predator on their payroll, or if Child Protective Services places a sexually predatory foster child in your home or if a prison or jail places a low-risk inmate in a cell with an inmate known to be aggressive and predatory, the victim has no recourse.
State and local government gets a free pass; you and your family bear the costs.
In the setting of schools, foster care and prisons, this should frighten us all. Without a path to accountability, there is therefore no incentive for government actors to do what is right. With no incentive, unfortunately, history tells us that liars will lie, poor performers will perform poorly and weak leaders will lead weakly.
There are two bills in the legislature, LB54 and LB71, that would fix this alarming trend by limiting the barrier of governmental immunity and restoring a path to accountability for victims by holding accountable the government agencies who either conceal or ignore these dangerous warning signs from those whom are being put directly in danger. Ask your state senator to fix this problem and hold the government accountable by supporting LB54 and LB71.
One of the justices of the Nebraska Supreme Court who disagrees with the Court’s trend, Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman, has openly invited the Nebraska Legislature to do this, asking, “What if 911 dawdled while your daughter was being sexually assaulted at gunpoint?”
If her question bothers you, call your state senator today and ask them to support LB54 and LB71. Don’t wait until the worst happens, and you find yourself wondering why there is no justice.
Brock Wurl is president-elect of the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys. He lives in North Platte.