February 18, 2011
convened on 23 consecutive weekdays, state senators—and
also legislative staff, the media corps and perhaps even
a few lobbyists—were looking forward to the first
four-day weekend of the 2011 session. It consists of
Presidents’ Day and the preceding Friday.
After the modest break, the Legislature will meet
for 13 more consecutive weekdays. Thereafter, Speaker Mike Flood’s calendar
calls for four-day work weeks the rest of the way, until final adjournment
in early June.
With 31 legislative days completed, thus
surpassing the one-third point in the 90-day session, the legislative
process has settled in on the routine of morning floor sessions and
afternoon committee hearings and executive sessions. The result is that
legislation has been moving at all stages. More than 100 bills were advanced
"to the floor" by the standing committees by the end of the 31st
To help Nebraskans know more about what the
Legislature is doing, the Unicameral Information Office has a fine website,
which offers numerous features and capabilities. It is
In addition to daily news from the session, updated information about the
status of any bill can be obtained by using the bill-search function. Also,
there is a link to the Nebraska Educational Television network’s coverage,
which provides streaming video of floor sessions and hearings.
Among bills that already have had public hearings
and await action by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee are two that call
into question and propose to modify Nebraska’s current public policy that
allows minors to be sentenced to life in prison without parole upon
conviction of a Class I felony, which is almost always first-degree murder.
Both bills were introduced by Senator Brenda Council from Omaha.
LB 202 proposes to allow a person sentenced to
life without parole for conviction of a Class I felony that he or she
committed when younger than 18 to petition for recall and resentencing after
15 years or more of incarceration and certain other conditions. The bill
sets forth specific criteria and a three-part, court review process that
could result in a reduced sentence for those able to establish greater
maturity and change in their lives. The bill would in no way dictate a
reduced sentence, but it would provide opportunity for that to happen. It
might be amended to become a commutation rather than re-sentencing.
LB 203 would eliminate the sentence of
imprisonment for life without parole for anyone convicted of a Class I
felony, i.e., first-degree murder, who was younger than 18 at the time of
committing the crime. Instead, those of ages 16 or 17 would be sentenced to
50 years imprisonment and those younger than 16 would be sentenced to 40
years. Typically, this would mean first-time eligibility to petition for
review by the state parole board after 25 and 20 years respectively.
Senator Council, herself a member of the Judiciary
Committee, stressed to her colleagues that juveniles lack maturity and have
an underdeveloped sense of accountability. She explained that her bills
would allow for greater consideration of all the scientific and medical
information about brain development.
The Nebraska Catholic Conference, representing the
mutual concern of the three dioceses, under the direction of the Diocesan
Bishops, submitted testimony in support of both bills, which offer
alternatives for modifying current public policy. Following is an excerpt
from the NCC testimony:
"From the perspective of the
Conference—reflective of Catholic social teaching—there is
no question that responsibility, accountability and
effective punishment are fundamental to the demands of
justice and to a just society…. Therefore, in no way does
our Conference’s support for either LB 202 or LB 203 have
any intent or purpose of minimizing the seriousness of
crimes or the concern and compassion unquestionably due to
victims and their families. We understand, as you do, the
terrible nature and repercussions of all violent crimes,
most especially those that shock the conscience and break
the heart. We understand—in fact our Church teaches—that the
state unquestionably has a right to establish and enforce
laws to protect society and to advance the common good.
"Catholic Conference support for
LB 202 and LB 203 stems from the view that current Nebraska
policy allowing life imprisonment without parole for minors
should be reformed, because when this sentence is applied,
it eliminates opportunity, not just opportunity for parole
review, but much more significantly, all meaningful
opportunity for redemption, rehabilitation, reform and
reintegration for those who lacked adult development,
rationality and judgment when they committed crimes that led
them to be punished as adults, and who, by virtue of their
youth and immaturity, have an extraordinary capacity for
change and reform. None of us are the same person today that
we were at fifteen or sixteen years of age.
"From our perspective, LB 202 and
LB 203 do not cast aside or offend the balance between the
necessity of responsibility, accountability and corrective
punishment on one side, and efforts for healing,
forgiveness, redemption and rehabilitation on the other
side. Rather, the bills uphold and enhance that balance."
You can contact Jim at the
Nebraska Catholic Conference, 215 Centennial
Suite 310, Lincoln, NE 68508;