Senators watch as votes are tallied in the Nebraska Legislature Tuesday (photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
Controversy over moving a state veterans’ home from Grand Island to Kearney surfaced in the Legislature Tuesday, and a filibuster killed a proposal to let citizen safety patrols use amber lights while making their rounds.
There has been a veterans home in Grand Island since 1887. Last year, after the Legislature appropriated money to build a new home, Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings and North Platte submitted applications, and a site selection committee picked Kearney.
Tuesday, an unrelated veterans’ bill gave Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor a chance to speak on the issue. Gloor complained that residents of the Grand Island home had not been consulted about the move. He referred to a bill he’s introduced that would require legislative approval of moving services from one community to another if transfer would have a fiscal impact of $15 million or more. Gloor said that could be triggered by the cost of the move itself, the payroll to be transferred, or construction costs.
Gloor's bill would apply retroactively to decisions made last year, including the veterans’ home move. “Bringing this decision back to this body may not result in a change of any kind and I understand that. But this is the people’s body of government. And if we are going to pit communities against each other, and in this case if we are going to dislodge people and their family members, and a large pool of employees, shouldn’t this body be involved in weighing the pros and cons of this?” Gloor asked.
Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney argued the site selection process was fair, and should not be overturned. “I’m sorry, I’ve just had enough of this. It’s been going on a long time,” Hadley said. He added that Gloor’s bill was “bad policy” and a bad way to handle business. “You stand up and you accept what happens, right or wrong,” Hadley said.
The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing on Gloor’s bill on Thursday, Feb. 13.
Earlier Tuesday, the Legislature failed to break a filibuster by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers against a proposal to allow volunteer citizen patrols to use amber lights on top of their cars when patrolling neighborhoods.
Supporters of the bill sponsored by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh said it would increase the visibility and deterrent effect of the patrols. Opponents, including Chambers, said it would lend an air of official status to volunteers who don’t have the kind of training that law enforcement officials get.
Chambers began the day’s debate signaling that his opposition had not diminished. “From the very beginning I have been opposed to this bill. It does offer the appearance or the badge of authority, which ought not be done,” he declared.
Lautenbaugh defended the proposal and scoffed at the notion that neighborhood residents might be annoyed by the sight of amber lights compared to the sight of police cars after a crime is committed. “The people who are going to be most inclined to ask for these are probably worse than annoyed by the flashing red lights, and more than annoyed by gunfire, and more than annoyed by having their cars broken into, and more than annoyed by being victims all the time – repeatedly, constantly, victims of crime,” Lautenbaugh said.
After nearly four hours of debate on second-round consideration of the bill, Lautenbaugh called on senators to cut off further debate. That requires a two-thirds vote from 33 of the 49-member Legislature. The move got 32 votes. Speaker Greg Adams later said the bill will not be put on the agenda again this year.
On another issue, Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue withdrew a proposal that would have legalized the use of hemp oil to treat epilepsy patients. Crawford introduced the bill in response to constituents whose son had not responded to other treatments.
“From the beginning, our intent was only to pursue this bill if one epilepsy specialist affiliated with our level four epilepsy center in our state was willing to support the law and use it in their work with patients. At this time, these physicians in our state are not ready to do that,” she said.
Crawford said she’ll introduce a resolution to study the issue between now and next year, and said both the federal farm bill and other legislation in Nebraska could change the legal status of hemp.