Nebraska law enforcement accountability bill hits roadblock
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A bill touted as a way to promote greater transparency and accountability in Nebraska law enforcement hit a roadblock in the Legislature on Wednesday amid criticism that it could undermine union bargaining rights.
Lawmakers passed over the measure after nearly three hours of debate, as they’ve done with other bills facing a filibuster.
The sponsor, Sen. Laura Ebke, of Crete, now has to show support from a 33-vote supermajority of senators before the speaker of the Legislature will return it to the agenda. It was unclear whether it has enough votes.
Ebke and other supporters said the bill would help avoid the kind of misconduct cases that recently plagued the Nebraska State Patrol. She introduced it at the request of Gov. Pete Ricketts.
“Our police should be held to a high standard,” Ebke said. “We believe that, and I know the many officers I have spoken with also believe that.”
Ricketts fired former Superintendent Brad Rice in July after a personnel investigation found that Nebraska State Patrol leaders tried to influence the outcome of at least four internal reviews, failed to disclose a dozen alleged cases of trooper misconduct and didn’t properly investigate sexual harassment accusations.
After the debate, Ricketts encouraged lawmakers to keep trying to find a compromise.
“This is an important bill for accountability and transparency,” the governor said in a gathering with reporters.
Some senators took issue with provisions of the bill that would prevent the Nebraska State Patrol troopers’ union from bargaining on certain issues related to internal investigations.
Changes should be made through the collective bargaining process, which lawmakers should respect, said Sen. Mike McDonnell, of Omaha. McDonnell said collective bargaining ensures all workers are treated equally in disciplinary matters.
“If you’re going to take away someone’s livelihood because of their actions... that’s very serious,” said McDonnell, a former Omaha fire chief and president of the department’s union.
The bill would require law enforcement agencies to disclose any cases involving an officer who is fired or resigns for reasons such as incompetence, neglect, dishonesty and violations of state or federal law.
The report would go to the Nebraska Crime Commission, which certifies law enforcement officers. Fired officers who seek a new law enforcement job would have to give their prospective employer access to any such records, and the new employer couldn’t make the hire until it has received them.
The measure would also give the commission the power to subpoena documents and witnesses when considering whether to revoke an officer’s certification. Additionally, it would require a formal investigation any time a state employee alleges sexual harassment.
The bill follows a recent shake-up at the Nebraska State Patrol.
In December, the patrol’s new superintendent, Col. John Bolduc, announced that one trooper was fired, two officers stepped down and two others were punished following a probe into allegations that the agency mishandled internal investigations.
One incident involved a South Dakota man who was killed in Sheridan County, Nebraska, when a trooper used a tactical maneuver to bump his vehicle during a high-speed chase. The other involved a trooper in Sioux County who was shown on video striking an intoxicated man in the head with a rifle butt after the man ignored orders to get on the ground.
Nebraska Crime Commission Director Darrell Fisher told a legislative committee in February that the patrol’s union contract prevents the agency from releasing internal investigation files in many cases, which has prevented the commission from investigating eight claims against officers and potentially revoking their certifications.
The sexual harassment proposal rose from an investigation that found patrol leaders didn’t properly investigate sexual harassment allegations by a female recruit. The recruit, who has since left the patrol, alleged that she and others were forced to submit to invasive, medically unnecessary pelvic exams by an outside doctor who was hired by the patrol to give pre-employment medical exams.
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