The Legislature took a step Tuesday toward easing up on what some senators see as unfair "sting" operations targeting alcohol sales to minors.
The bill by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist would require young people to respond truthfully to questions when they're helping police check whether businesses are selling alcohol to minors. For example, they'd have to say yes if asked if they were working with law enforcement, and give their correct age if questioned.
Senator Abbie Cornett of Bellevue, a former police officer and bar manager, said that would effectively gut future compliance checks. "I will tell you that being able to - if you want to say lie - lie, is how police work is done a lot of the time," Cornett said. "You don't go in to buy narcotics and say I'm a cop.' You don't do a sting operation on prostitution wearing a badge. You don't go in and go 'I'm not 21' or I work for the police department' when you're trying to buy alcohol illegally."
But Senator Russ Karpisek of Wilber, chairman of the General Affairs Committee that recommended the bill, said current practices border on entrapment of businesses. "They don't want to lose their liquor licences. That's how they make their money. They aren't trying to sell to minors on purpose," Karpisek said. "Mistakes happen and we do need to make certain that they don't, as much as possible. But to send some people in to deceive and play Gotcha' I don't think is the right way, the upstanding way, that we should be doing these."
Senators gave first round approval to the bill on a vote of 25-17. Krist said later he's trying to send a warning to law enforcement agencies about what he considers abusive practices, like sending officers into a bar and having them vouch for the age of a young person, whom the bartender serves them without checking ID. But he said he's open to amending or discussing the bill further.
Lawmakers also began debate on a proposal that would let doctors and other medical personnel give out antibiotics for sexually transmitted diseases without actually seeing some of the people who would get them. Under the bill by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill, if one person visits a doctor for an STD, he or she could be given medicine for their partner or partners. McGill said the practice known as expedited partner therapy or EPT, is used in 30 states and could help combat an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, especially in Omaha.
"Even if a person might suspect they are infected, many are afraid, embarrassed, or do not have a means to seek medical treatment because of insurance reasons," McGill said. "Obtaining an in-person exam is obviously still the preferred option for STD treatment. However, the EPT would be permitted if a medical professional believes the partner is unable or unwilling to seek that attention in person."
Several senators said prescribing drugs without seeing patients could be risky. Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop said he didn't know if the drugs would be safe. "But I do know that the physicians want immunity. And the fact that someone wants immunity from something suggests to me that there's a risk with what we're doing here," he declared.
Lathrop was referring to a part of the bill that would shield medical personnel from liability for dispensing the drugs. The Legislature adjourned for the day before reaching a vote.
In a hearing later on in the day on Governor Dave Heineman's proposed budget adjustments, senators questioned Budget Administrator Gerry Oligmeuller about Heineman's proposed tax cuts. Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. LaVon Heidemann, usually an ally of the governor, wondered aloud whether it wouldn't be wiser to wait until next year, when an entirely new budget is being written, to see what kind of tax cuts were feasible.
Oligmueller replied that people can always find a reason to wait, but the governor is anxious to provide tax relief sooner rather than later. The Revenue Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the tax cuts Thursday afternoon.
And Nebraska Supreme Court Justice John Gerrard has resigned, effective Feb. 5. Gerrard has been confirmed as a federal district judge. Governor Dave Heineman will appoint his replacement from at least two names that will be forwarded by the Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission has up to 90 days to send the names to the governor, who then has up to 60 days to make an appointment.