Proposals to raise Nebraska’s minimum wage and provide paid family leave were among proposals bills introduced in the Legislature Thursday. Meanwhile, lawmakers got hung up debating a bill to let citizen safety volunteers put amber lights on their cars.
The proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage was introduced by Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha. It would raise the current $7.25 an hour to $7.65 next January 1, to $8.35 in 2016, and to $9 in 2017.
Nordquist said the measure is needed because incomes have been declining. “Twenty one states have moved forward with legislation to raise their minimum wage, including our neighbors of Colorado and Missouri. Raising the minimum wage is about Nebraska values, and about valuing work,’ he said.
Colorado’s minimum wage is linked to inflation, and is currently $8 an hour. Missouri’s is $7.50.
Jamie Karl of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that group opposes the increase. Karl said Nebraska has an advantage in attracting companies from other states because it is consistent with the federal minimum wage. Nordquist said studies have shown no ill effects on employment in states that have raised minimum wages.
Another proposal introduced Thursday would create up to six weeks of paid family leave for employees. It would be paid for by a form of insurance, funded by required employee contributions.
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist said he will introduce legislation authorizing purchase of a new state airplane. The current plane used by the governor and other officials is about 30 years old. Gov. Dave Heineman proposed purchasing a newer used plane last year, but lawmakers opted for a study instead. Krist said the used plane was overpriced and required repairs, and buying a new one would save about $500,000.
Lawmakers spent all day Thursday debating a bill by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh to allow the use of amber lights on cars driven by members of volunteer citizen safety patrols. Lautenbaugh said the proposal was a commonsense measure to increase the visibility and deterrent effect of the patrols.
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers filibustered against the measure, questioning both the motivation and practicality. “This is not in my opinion something that the legislature ought to be involved in,” Chambers said. “Everybody wants to play cop. Everybody wants to have symbols of authority. If you drive around with a flashing light, you let ‘em know where the watchdog is.”
Lautenbaugh said it was a matter of empowering unarmed citizen volunteers to help make their neighborhoods safer. “We are through the looking glass here if we are going to talk eight hours about a bill that authorizes neighborhood watches …to have amber lights on top of their cars, like those other dangerous entities we have out there such as tow trucks and storm spotters,” he said.
Lawmakers did not reach a vote on the bill before they adjourned for the day.
Editor's note: To hear an NET News feature story on a night spent with an Omaha citizens' patrol, click here.