Capitol Digest: Legal hemp, higher smoking and vaping age among bills passed Friday

Capitol Digest: Legal hemp, higher smoking and vaping age among bills passed Friday
World-Herald News Service

Hemp farming. Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill Friday to allow marijuana’s practical cousin to be grown, harvested, processed and marketed in the state.

Legislative Bill 657, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would legalize industrial hemp and its products, including cannabidiol, or CBD, in the state. The bill creates a structure for licensing and regulating the new crop, following steps spelled out in last year’s federal farm bill.

The measure passed 43-4 and was developed in cooperation with the Ricketts administration, particularly the State Department of Agriculture and the Nebraska State Patrol. Both agencies opposed previous hemp proposals.

It’s not clear where the governor will come down on the bill. Ricketts has fought all attempts to legalize medical marijuana, saying that marijuana is illegal under federal law and raising concerns that medical marijuana would be a step toward allowing recreational use. But his spokesman, Taylor Gage, said earlier that the state “is pursuing a regulatory framework in response to federal action” with the farm bill.

Vaping and smoking. Nebraskans would have to be at least 19 years old to smoke cigarettes or vape nicotine legally under LB 149, introduced by Grand Island Sen. Dan Quick and passed on a 45-0 vote Friday. If signed into law by the governor, the restrictions would take effect Jan. 1.

Electronic cigarettes and other vaping products deliver nicotine, flavorings and other additives to the user through an inhaled vapor. One of the most popular brands of e-cigarettes is Juul, a product that resembles a computer flash drive.

Lawmakers amended the bill to include traditional tobacco products. Current state law allows people to buy and use tobacco and electronic cigarettes at age 18. The higher age limit would not apply to electronic cigarettes sold with non-nicotine products.

Rental rights. Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill Friday requiring landlords to return their tenants’ security deposits without being asked. LB 433, approved 39-1, also would give tenants seven days instead of three to pay rent before a landlord could start eviction proceedings against them.

Current law puts the burden on renters to ask for their deposits back, even though many do not know about that requirement. If they do not ask, landlords can keep the money.

Under LB 433, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, landlords would have to send deposit money to the treasurer’s unclaimed property department if the tenant cannot be found. Landlords would continue to be able to deduct the cost of damage to a rental unit from the deposit.

Protection orders. Courts would have to hold hearings before dismissing applications for domestic abuse or sexual assault protection orders under LB 532, passed 47-0 on Friday.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, also would allow the court to decide what type of protection order — domestic abuse, sexual assault or harassment — best fits a particular application and would make the process similar for obtaining each of the three types.

About 28% of protection orders were denied without hearings last year in Nebraska courts. One denied application was from Janet Franks-Bohm against her husband, Carl Bohm. Seven months later, he allegedly started a fire that destroyed the family home, injured his daughter and severely burned Janet Franks-Bohm.

Revenge porn. Lawmakers passed three bills Friday aimed at countering sex trafficking, helping trafficking victims and fighting online “revenge porn.” All three passed without dissent.

LB 519, introduced by Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, would give prosecutors more tools to go after those who traffic children for sex or labor. The bill also spells out the kinds of damages that trafficking victims could seek in court and clarifies that child sex trafficking victims should be treated as abuse and neglect victims.

LB 630, introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, would make it a crime to threaten or harass someone by distributing sexual photos or videos of them. The bill also would make it a crime to distribute sexual photos of someone in an attempt to extort money or other valuables from them. LB 680, introduced by Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington, sets out when and how lawsuits can be filed over the disclosure of sexual photos or videos.

Flood relief/business incentives. A bill passed 47-0 Friday would close down the state’s Angel Investment Program and use the $4 million from that program to help replenish the governor’s emergency fund next year. The money would supplement the $7 million added to the fund in the state budget package. The emergency fund is expected to be depleted by this spring’s flooding.

For the following fiscal year, the $4 million that had gone for the Angel Investment Program will be used to expand the state’s Business Innovation Act to just over $10 million a year. Sen. John Stinner of Gering, who introduced LB 334, called the innovation act a “rock star” in helping startup firms.

Attack in Lincoln. The attack on an 18-year-old Muslim woman in Lincoln prompted an Omaha lawmaker to call Friday for state lawmakers and their staffs to reject bigotry. Authorities said two men approached the young woman Wednesday night and made “threatening and derogatory statements” and then knocked her to the ground and kicked her.

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha read a letter from the woman’s sister, saying the attack occurred two days before the woman’s high school graduation.

“What happened to my sister was disgusting and she did not deserve this,” the letter said. “The capacity for a hateful person to attack an innocent young woman baffles us beyond comprehension.”

Hunt urged her colleagues to support a legislative resolution condemning white supremacy and white nationalism. She also urged them and their staffs to examine their views about Muslims and not to say things that spread hatred.