LINCOLN — Law enforcement officers would be required to undergo more training and become certified before being hired, and would be banned from using chokeholds under a multi-faceted bill introduced Thursday.
State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said he introduced the proposal after hearing hours of concerns expressed during listening sessions held in the wake of the police-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, who was pinned to the pavement by police officers, died after one officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes.
Lathrop said Legislative Bill 51 “is about ensuring that police departments are the professionals we expect them to be.”
The senator leads the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which conducted the listening sessions. He said that larger law enforcement agencies in the state may already require the additional training he is seeking in his bill, but that residents of smaller communities should also expect law enforcement officers to be well-trained, too.
Among the changes called for in LB 51 are: increasing, from 22 hours a year to 40, the continuing education requirements to maintain a state law enforcement certificate; requiring agencies to adopt policies that require officers to intervene when they see a fellow officer use excessive force; requiring a psychological evaluation to determine fitness for duty before an officer is hired; and requiring 40 hours of de-escalation training for prospective officers.
Right now, law enforcement officers can legally be hired before undergoing and passing state certification training. Some small-town sheriffs and police chiefs have said that without allowing a grace period for such training, they would be hard-pressed to hire officers.
The summer protests and rioting in Omaha and Lincoln also inspired a proposal, based on a law in Tennessee, from Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston to increase penalties for those who riot or assault public safety officers.
Under LB 111, a person who encourages more than six people to riot would be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, though the offense would rise to a Class IV felony if the riot resulted in serious bodily injury to one or more people and caused more than $5,000 in damage.
The proposal, which is sure to inspire opposition by civil liberties advocates, also creates criminal offenses for blocking a public thoroughfare, disrupting a public meeting and disobeying an order by a police officer or firefighter to “move” from a roadway.
State holidays: Arbor Day would be traded for Juneteenth as a state holiday under LB 29, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha. Arbor Day, observed on the last Friday in April, promotes trees and tree planting. Juneteenth, which would be on June 19, marks the day that word of the Emancipation Proclamation reached slaves in Texas, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed it. Wayne said he chose to replace Arbor Day to avoid the cost of adding a holiday. Nebraska is the only state to give employees the day off for Arbor Day, which was founded in the state.
National motto: The national motto — “In God We Trust” — would have to be displayed in Nebraska schools under LB 36, offered by Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard. Erdman introduced the idea two years ago, but it generated strong opposition and never got out of committee. Similar bills have been passed in some other states.
Space Command: The Nebraska Legislature would go on record expressing “enthusiastic support” for the U.S. Air Force locating the U.S. Space Command headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base under Legislative Resolution 1, introduced by Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue and co-signed by 47 other senators. Offutt is among six finalists for the headquarters. The Air Force is expected to announce its decision by the middle of the month.
LGBT discrimination: Employment discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity would be banned under LB 120, introduced by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha. The measure would also allow cities and villages to ban sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in housing and other areas. Such proposals have been unsuccessful in the past, but the picture may have changed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees.