Bill would add central Nebraska county judge

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Feb. 3 on a bill that would add a county judge to the judicial district serving Buffalo and Hall counties.

Sen. Raymond Aguilar
Sen. Raymond Aguilar

Current state law sets the number of county judges in Nebraska’s 9th District, which contains Buffalo and Hall counties, at four. LB81, introduced by Grand Island Sen. Raymond Aguilar, would increase that number to five.

Aguilar said the juvenile justice system in central Nebraska, which can be an important turning point in determining the direction of a young person’s life, is facing significant needs. LB81, he said, would be an important investment in assisting Nebraska’s youth.

“Young people who go through the juvenile justice system — many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds — their voices deserve to be heard, and every case needs to be considered carefully and not rushed through the system like products off a factory assembly line,” Aguilar said.

Judge Arthur Wetzel of the 9th District spoke in support of the bill. The needs of juveniles in Hall County currently are not being met sufficiently, he said, but the area does not meet the population threshold for a separate juvenile court.

“We have an overwhelming juvenile population that unfortunately continues to grow and the depth of their crimes and behaviors continue to grow,” Wetzel said. “We’re hoping that if LB81 is passed, that the new judge can do … primarily juvenile work to help us provide a better service to the juveniles of Hall County.”

Jason Grams, president of the Nebraska State Bar Association, also spoke in support of LB81. Grams said a recent report shows that the 9th District needs 4.43 judges to address its current caseload. This shortage negatively impacts juveniles waiting for court processing and also creates a considerable cost to counties, he said.

“Providing an adequate level of judicial resources is essential to effectively administering justice and providing meaningful [court] access to the citizens of Nebraska,” Grams said.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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