Bill would require legislative racial impact statements

The Executive Board heard testimony March 1 on a measure that would require certain bills introduced in the Legislature to include a statement of their potential racial impact.

Sen. Tony Vargas
Sen. Tony Vargas

LB657, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, would require the Legislative Research Office to prepare racial impact statements for bills designated by the Executive Board, beginning in the 2022 legislative session.

Statements would summarize the estimated impact of the bill on racial populations in Nebraska and on racial disparities. They also could include any relevant research on the historical racial impact of similar bills enacted previously.

The research office could request the cooperation of other state agencies, political subdivisions, accredited academic institutions or other subject matter experts in the preparation of a racial impact study.

Vargas said the information would be useful for policymakers in the same way the fiscal notes that currently accompany bills are — by providing data on the potential impact of a proposed policy change. The statements wouldn’t determine or constrain lawmakers’ choices, he said, but simply would provide additional information on how changes in state law might impact racial minorities.

“The extent to which something is going to be harmful or helpful — or do nothing at all — to Black and brown communities is the decision we make with every one of our bills,” Vargas said.

Craig Beck, speaking on behalf of OpenSky Policy Institute, testified in support of LB657. He said changes in the tax code and funding decisions regarding transportation, education and health care often exacerbate racial disparities. Data increasingly is available, he said, and should be examined by lawmakers when considering legislation.

“The manner in which state and local governments raise and spend revenue has major implications for racial and ethnic equity,” Beck said.

Spike Eickholt, representing the ACLU of Nebraska, also supported the bill. A disproportionate number of people of color are stopped, cited, arrested and jailed in Nebraska, he said, and there are aspects of the criminal code and how it’s enforced that cause those disparities.

“It may not be explicit; it may not be deliberate. But it’s systematic,” Eickholt said. “If you do nothing, it’s going to continue.”

No one appeared in person to testify against the bill and the committee took no immediate action.

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