Proposal to add district judge in Douglas County amended, advanced

A bill that would add a district judge to the state’s fourth judicial district was amended to become an omnibus judicial measure and advanced from general file April 8.

Sen. Steve Lathrop
Sen. Steve Lathrop

LB922, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, would increase the number of judges in Douglas County’s fourth district from 17 to 18.

Lathrop said the state’s Judicial Resources Commission has determined that the current caseload in Douglas County justifies adding a judge. Doing so also would allow judges more time to devote to problem-solving courts, he said, which is done on a voluntary basis.

“As policymakers, we have a responsibility to take care of the nonpolitical branch of government and that means that we make sure those folks have sufficient resources,” Lathrop said.

A Judiciary Committee amendment added provisions of five other bills to the proposal.

LB870, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, would amend the State Self-Insured Indemnification Fund and the State Self-Insured Liability Fund to allow payment of attorneys’ fees by allowing fees associated with agency legal counsel or hired outside legal counsel to be paid from revolving funds.

LB903, introduced by Sen. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln, would create a new type of second-degree trespass that criminalizes flying a drone over the property of another individual with the intent to observe the person without their consent in a place of solitude or seclusion.

Sen. John Cavanugh of Omaha offered and later withdrew an amendment to strike those provisions, saying the language isn’t necessary and would only make current law less clear. He said he would work with Hansen regarding his concerns before the next round of debate.

“I think it’s important that we’re not adding criminal conduct when we don’t need it,” Cavanugh said.

Also included in the committee amendment was LB990, sponsored by Blair Sen. Ben Hansen, which would create the offense of criminal impersonation by stolen valor.

Under the provisions, an individual who pretends to be an active member or veteran of the U.S. military, including armed forces reserves and the National Guard, with the intent to deceive or harm another — or who fraudulently represents themselves as the recipient of a military honor or award — would be guilty of criminal impersonation by stolen valor. Violations would be a Class I misdemeanor.

Provisions of LB1059, introduced by Norfolk Sen. Michael Flood, would add the Judicial Resources Commission to the list of entities excluded from the definition of public bodies under the Open Meetings Act. The provisions also would also remove the commission from the list of public bodies that may, with certain limitations, conduct virtual meetings.

Finally, the provisions of LB1171, sponsored by Sen. Rita Sanders of Bellevue, would establish the clerk of the district court as the jury commissioner in all counties.

The committee amendment was adopted on a 31-0 vote.

Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer offered an amendment, adopted 33-0, to add provisions of her LB830. She said the amendment is clean-up language to address medical cash support for children. Currently, state law sets the maximum level of support for the responsible party at 3 percent of gross income. The amendment instead would tie the maximum amount to child support guidelines set by the state supreme court.

DeBoer said the change would allow for future periodic review and adjustment of the amount without legislative action.

Sen. Matt Hansen offered an amendment to include his LB444, which was introduced last session. The provisions would align prison “good time” with county jail “good time.”

Currently, when inmates begin serving a state prison sentence, they are eligible to earn day-for-day good time credit toward their sentences for following rules and not engaging in prohibited conduct. Inmates serving a sentence in a county jail also can earn this good time, but only after the first 14 days of their sentence.

Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh supported the amendment, calling it a “smart, reasonable, very small” step that would impact a small number of days but a large number of people. County jails currently are full of individuals with no incentive for good behavior under the theory of good time, he said.

Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling opposed the amendment, saying the 15-day waiting period is “absolutely reasonable.”

Hansen withdrew his amendment in order to allow the underlying bill to advance, noting the limited amount of time left in the legislative session.

Lawmakers then voted 33-0 to advance LB922 to select file.

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