Christensen calls for fiscal responsibility when compensating wrongfully convicted
A bill to financially reimburse those who have been wrongfully incarcerated needs to be realistic and fiscally responsible, Sen. Mark Christensen said.
But a bill that has been advanced to full floor debate will not get his vote if it's left in its current form, he said at the Government Affairs Legislative conference call this morning at the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce.
LB 260, advanced out of the Judiciary Committee this week, establishes the Nebraska Claims for Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment Act, and compensates those who have been jailed yet later declared innocent of the crime.
Reimbursements include $25,000 for each year incarcerated, free educational opportunities, dental and mental health coverage and child support payments, among other reimbursements.
Christensen, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said he voted to advance the bill only because it deserves floor debate but added that the current bill needs extensive amendments before he could support it.
"You have to be realistic, you can't replace things like missed birthdays or anniversaries," he said. "There's no money figure you can put on it to make up things like that."
Christensen said although he believes people should be compensated, he's concerned about provisions under the current bill such as the lump- sum fee, what lawyers will collect from these claims and other reimbursements.
"You have to take care of their needs and be fiscally responsible at the same time," he said.
Six people were recently exonerated, based on DNA evidence.
One of Christensen's own bills, LB 651, will be heard in the Natural Resources Committee today, which he said he has amended to repay property taxes collected under LB 701 which have since been declared illegal by the Nebraska Supreme Court.
Another amendment he has attached will eliminate the closed-class section of LB 701, which allowed only NRDs in the Republican River Basin to collect property taxes, and which was one of the factors behind by the ruling by the Supreme Court.
Legislative Bill 651 would adopt the Water Resources Revolving Loan Fund Act, where NRDs could borrow money to pay for projects in their districts. The funds would be financed by the $9 million owed to the state by the Republican River Basin NRDs, who borrowed the money to pay irrigators for water purchased in 2007 and which has not yet been repaid.
Christensen also weighed in on LB 478, which would allow the sale and consumption of alcohol on property owned by the Nebraska Games and Parks.
Heard in committee Feb. 23, but with no definite date set for floor debate Christensen said he was "torn" on the issue. Although most people are responsible with alcohol, it's those who are not that caused the problem that ultimately led to the current ban of alcohol at recreation areas, he said.
"Unfortunately, most of the laws get put into place because of the 5 to 10 percent of people that are irresponsible," he stated.
Christensen said he will see where debate takes the bill and will support if it includes no alcohol used while boating. "If they keep it off the boat, I can probably live with it."
Christensen said he would also look into banning the use of glass bottles and beer kegs other than those sold by licensed establishments.
And paycheck advance establishments are under the gun at the Legislature, with three bills heard in committee recently that add restrictions.
He hasn't made up his mind yet on these bills, Christensen admitted, as in emergencies they are a legitimate source of cash for those unable to obtain bank loans. But the businesses also feed on those people, he added.
Amendments considered in committee included limiting interest rates to 36 percent and mandating a three-day wait before a second loan can be advanced.
Currently up to 400 percent interest rates can be charged at these businesses, with $17.50 per $100 loaned.
Those in the advance paycheck industry said in committee hearings that at 36 percent, they would close up shop and leave the state, according to Christensen. Eliminating a business is not a good idea in today's economy, added Christensen, who favored restrictions on interest rates that would keep the industry in business but not be excessive.