Friday, April 14, 2006

Unicam 2006: Closing Thoughts #1

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald provides a nice rundown of the major accomplishments of the 2006 Nebraska legislative session. Meanwhile, in the Lincoln Journal-Star, three local lobbyists gush over how much was accomplished:
Lobbyist Rich Lombardi: “Public education, tax cuts, Medicaid reform, guns, sex offenders, water, taxes....And buildings – they took care of buildings for the university and state colleges.”

Lobbyist Larry Ruth: “They didn’t waiver. They wrestled with almost all the major issues....It’s one of the more extraordinary sessions.”

Lobbyist Walt Radcliffe: “This was a mature Legislature that wasn’t afraid to deal with things....It was the antithesis of inaction.”

Whenever paid lobbyists are that optimistic about the work of the legislature, you have to be a little suspicious. I'm certainly no budget hawk, but lobbyists tend to be happiest when their clients have seen a big payday. For true fiscal conservatives, I suspect there's nothing more distressing than a bunch of lobbyists singing the praises of a legislative body.

Still, for a 60-day session, there's no doubt that much was accomplished. I think that had A LOT to do with term limits forcing some of this state's most experienced senators to use this last opportunity to show the people of Nebraska how it's done.

Of course, there's nothing that guarantees more action will result in better action. The following are my impressions on many of the major bills to have become law:

OPS "reforms"
Considering that these were meant to keep Omaha Public Schools and the suburban school districts out of court, it's ironic that LB 1024 is almost certain to force even more lawsuits. Only now, this battle is going to be about one thing: race. And, Omaha may well suffer for it.

Ultimately, though, I'm more bothered by how this bill became law than by its actual provisions. I do not believe the legislature considered the consequences of its action. I do not believe citizens had opportunity enough to comment and be heard - particularly on the forced division of OPS into three separate (racially-distinguishable) school districts. I do not believe that the many rural senators who voted for this bill were doing so with the interests of Omaha area school children in mind. This was GOT'CHA politics, pure and simple - a chance to stick it to OPS in the name of small schools everywhere.

Still, it's a bold action, and that alone should not provoke fear. The idea of a learning community with a shared tax base will likely prove a radical improvement over the status quo. And, we shouldn't fear a true discussion of race and economics. Nor should we fear school boards more representative of the communities they actually serve. Again, I don't like how it came about. I don't like the hidden motives. But, only time will tell whether this overreaching plan might work to the benefit of Omaha students.

Tax cuts
A hodgepodge of tax cuts that will buy most families a large pizza at Pizza Hut three or four times a long as they don't own property because rising property taxes are likely to eat up all that pizza and more. But, Gov. Dave Heineman demanded something he could use in his campaign commercials, and he got what he wanted.

Conceal & Carry Permits
Foolish more as a matter of misplaced priorities than as actual policy. When the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Combs, started to cry tears of joy on behalf of paranoid gun-enthusiasts everywhere, it was one of the more pathetic moments in recent political history. I'm all for uncontrolled displays of emotion but generally prefer they not be accompanied by a loaded weapon. Alas, tears of grief and rage are far more common than Combs' tears of childish delight.

Sexual predators
A vast improvement over the Iowa laws that forced Nebraska to deal with this always controversial and panic-inducing issue. The fact that Nebraska was able to break free from the easy reliance on residency restrictions was the clearest display of common sense and political cooperation this session.

Combating prostitution
I'm not defending prostitution, but making hiring a prostitute a felony (on the second offense) is just plain ridiculous. Prostitution is not a good thing, but it does not rise up to the level of social ill that the sad and pathetic individuals on either end of the "transaction" should be considered felons. Shameful and stupid - most shameful of all was that Heineman signed the felony provision into law but vetoed the spending ($1.5 million) to actually help prostitutes get off drugs and off the streets. What a moron.

Fetal assault
Keep an eye on this one. Sen. Mike Foley's methods of lies and deceit to further his anti-abortion agenda were laid bare this session in his near-successful attempt to manipulate funding of women's health clinics. Though many Senators voted for this bill for the right reasons, Foley's dirty hands are all over it. Making fetal assault a crime sounds like a great idea but there can be no doubt that this bill is a hidden assault on a woman's rights over her own body and her own medical decisions.

.........that's all for now. Comment away. There will be more to come, especially on those actions the 2006 legislature failed to take.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who worked on the prostitution measure, and advocated strongly for the felony count on the second arrest for solicitors, I can tell you that this move was based in research on what actually works to decrease prostitution (cracking down on solicitors who have more choices, power and options than do people who are prostituting), research on solicitors (which shows that they have more power, are making free choices and aren't making those choices based on access to sex -as most are married - but on access to sex with someone who has no power), and research on what solicitors do to the people they buy (numerous studies spanning decades show that prostitutes experience frequent sexual and physical violence and verbal abuse perpetrated by solicitors). People in prostitution, on the other hand, usually have a life long history of sexual and physical abuse and exploitation which is what leads them to prostituting in the first place, and dependence on drugs to numb out the horrors they live with/through.

That Heineman vetoed the treatment dollars and merely referred to all actors in this exploitive situation as "criminals" shows him to be a callous man with either a shallow ability to understand complex issues or one who doesn't understand that "being tough on crime" and just locking people up is a political position which doesn't actually benefit society.

He seemed fine being all "tough on offenders" if they've raped someone under 12 and blathering on about "protecting children," (while ignoring the atrocities committed against plenty of Nebraskans over age 12 by the same people), but completely unwilling to recognize that prostitutes have not only been raped repeatedly before age 12, but repeatedly since then. He supposedly supports mental health reforms, but was completely unwilling to provide support for this population which has documented numerous mental health problems which both contribute to their vulnerability to the lifestyle and result from what's done to them.

Frankly, this is very progressive legislation in terms of what's happening in the US on this issue, and I am stunned that we had such support from the legislature.


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