Vehicle identification bill advances after cloture

Public safety volunteers would be allowed to use special lights to identify their vehicles under legislation advanced by lawmakers Jan. 17. The bill was the subject of a two-day filibuster requiring a cloture motion to allow a vote.

LB399, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, would allow volunteer members of public safety or crime prevention organizations to use rotating or flashing amber lights on any motor vehicle, as authorized by law enforcement.

The bill originally would have required sheriff and police departments to authorize the use of the lights, but it was changed during debate to assign county attorneys that responsibility. Adopted 34-0, the amendment brought by Lautenbaugh replaced the bill and would require county attorneys to register and authorize volunteer members of public safety groups before they are allowed to display the lights.

The amendment was based on a previous version introduced and later withdrawn by Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher.

Currently, the Nebraska Rules of the Road state that flashing amber lights may be displayed on vehicles used for specific purposes such as military, public utility maintenance, towing, vehicle maintenance, Civil Air Patrol, oversized load, railroad, emergency management and storm spotting.

Lautenbaugh called the bill “a common sense, straightforward and cost-free way to allow citizens to protect their own neighborhoods from crime.” The use of amber lights on vehicles by volunteer groups lets residents know the patrol is active in their community and deters criminal activity, he said.

Lautenbaugh said the idea for the bill was brought to him by a member of the Omaha Coalition of Citizen Patrols, which had been using amber lights for several years.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers opposed the bill, arguing that citizen patrol groups do not require amber flashing lights to adequately perform their duties. He filed numerous technical amendments and motions extending debate on the bill for eight hours spanning Jan. 16 and 17.

“This bill in no way enhances what these groups are doing now,” he said.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop also opposed the bill, calling the flashing lights a “symbol of authority.” He said their use by volunteer groups could mislead people.

“When you give people the appearance of authority, but without proper training, you are inviting problems,” he said.

Lautenbaugh moved to invoke cloture, or cease debate, and senators obliged on a 36-7 vote. LB399 then was advanced to select file on a 25-20 vote.

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