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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The comprehensive criminal justice bill

Friday, March 27, 2009

This week I would like to discuss Legislative Bill 63, introduced by Sen. Friend, which advanced to Select File on March 11. LB 63 is a comprehensive criminal justice bill that targets repeat felons, and those who commit violent crimes.

For about two and half years the Attorney General's Office working together with the Nebraska County Attorney's Association, the Nebraska Sheriff's Association, the Police Officers Association of Nebraska, and the Police Chief's Association of Nebraska have put together a bill to enhance penalties for violent crimes, harmonize certain offenses with federal law, and create new offenses targeted at gang violence..

I will not be able to cover all the changes in this letter because of the comprehensive scope of this bill, but I would like to focus on some of the new offenses created in the bill and new authority for judges, along with the creation of the Office of Violence Prevention.

The new offenses created by LB 63 are unauthorized application of graffiti; unlawful membership recruitment; possession of a knife, brass or iron knuckles or destructive device during the commission of a felony; possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony; and discharge of a firearm from a vehicle within populated communities. These new offenses primarily target gang violence in our larger cities, but I think this will help law enforcement and prosecutors throughout Nebraska.

One new authority given to judges would allow a judge to consider the dangerousness of an offender when setting bail, instead of the current statute that only allows a judge to consider the offenders flight risk. I believe this particular section will be a great help to protect the public while the accused is waiting for trial. This could also provide tougher bails for habitual drunk drivers who are deemed dangerous to the public, and potentially prevent additional life threatening accidents.

Another section allows judges to order offenders, at sentencing, who commit the crime of unauthorized application of graffiti to clean-up property that has been defaced, or to be a part of community graffiti clean-ups. I think this is another commonsense, positive tool to connect the penalty with the crime and hold people responsible for specific acts.

The committee amendment also included the creation of the Office of Violence Prevention and Advisory Council within the Crime Commission. The purpose of the Office of Violence Prevention is to develop, foster, promote, and assess programs to prevent violence. The Advisory Council would consist of six members appointed by the Governor with at least one member from each congressional district. The council will consist of two members from local government, two members from law enforcement, one from community advocacy groups, and one from education. Several large cities across the country have similar types of programs to try to prevent youth from entering into violent crime. This portion of the bill creates the largest fiscal impact, estimated at just under $500,000 per year.

I am for preventing violence in our communities, but I am not sure spending $500,000 on another council is the best way to tackle the problem during this economic climate. I am wholeheartedly behind the other changes to allow our law enforcement and prosecutors the right tools and penalties to do their jobs.

As always, do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, concerns, or comments.

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State Sen. Mark Christensen
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