Nebraska lawmaker says case against Husker player illustrates need for bill banning ‘revenge porn’

Nebraska lawmaker says case against Husker player illustrates need for bill banning ‘revenge porn’
Nebraska State Sen. Megan Hunt (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — An Omaha lawmaker said Tuesday the allegations against Nebraska running back Maurice Washington illustrate the need to ban so-called “revenge porn” in Nebraska.

State Sen. Megan Hunt would do just that with Legislative Bill 164, which she introduced along with five co-sponsors.

The bill would outlaw the sharing of sexual images or videos without the consent of the person depicted and with the intent of causing that person substantial emotional harm or financial loss.

After the Washington charges broke, Hunt tweeted:

“Cases like this is why I brought LB 164, NE’s first bill to ban revenge pornography, sharing intimate photos without someone’s consent. I support a full investigation of this very serious offense, and I will work to bring Nebraskans the same protection against revenge porn.”

California officials have filed charges against Washington for allegedly sending a former girlfriend a video that showed her in sex acts with two 17-year-old boys. The charges include sharing material without the person’s permission and with the potential to cause emotional distress.

According to authorities, the girl was 15 years old when the video was taken in 2016. She did not pursue charges at the time but has told authorities the acts were not consensual.

Washington allegedly texted the video to her in March last year, in response to a message she had sent congratulating him on signing with Nebraska. His attorney has said that Washington, now 18, did not record or participate in the alleged incident.

Hunt said she knows people in Nebraska who have been affected by similar actions, which can cost them job opportunities, get them fired, open them up to stalking or harassment, and destroy relationships. Typically, she said, the perpetrators are vengeful ex-partners or opportunistic hackers. The photos may be real or altered.

“It’s wrong. It’s a form of abuse and it’s increasingly prevalent,” she said.

Under LB 164, violation of the law would be a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine, for the first offense. A second or subsequent offense would be a Class IV felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. People convicted under the law would have to register as sex offenders.

The law could be used to bring charges against someone outside the state who targets a Nebraska resident, as well as a Nebraska resident who targets someone outside the state.

Road signs would honor crash victims, provide alternative to spontaneous memorials

Roadside memorials honoring those killed in car crashes have become a common sight along many roadways.

The sometimes elaborate memorials have drawn concern, however, that they are distracting and pose a safety hazard.

Bayard State Sen. Steve Erdman has introduced a measure, Legislative Bill 612, that would provide a new option for mourning family and friends who would like to put a memorial at a crash site: official road signs. The legislation would apply to Interstates and state highways. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

The signs would allow for a more permanent, safer alternative to spontaneous memorials, Erdman said, and would simultaneously honor victims and raise awareness of driving safely.

Erdman said his neighbor’s brother, Arlyn Kreman, was killed at 54 by a drunk driver on Highway 26 in Scotts Bluff County.

If passed as introduced, the memorials would be blue and triangular and would include the names of the deceased, and could include a photo.

One of four messages would accompany the memorial: “Please Drive Safely,” “Seat Belts Save Lives,” “Watch for Bicyclists” or “Don’t Drink and Drive.”

Someone would have to apply for a sign to be erected. The sign would remain on the roadside for a decade, with the option to reapply. Drunk drivers who died would be excluded.

The applicant would pay for the signs, and Erdman said he expects there to be little opposition to the bill because there is no cost to the state.

Lancaster County currently has a similar program, but it applies only to county roads.

About 20 states provide for road sign memorials, said Arthur Jipson, a professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio who has researched roadside memorial legislation.

Including a photo of the victim, which this bill allows, would be unique to Nebraska, Jipson said. He expects some to argue that a photo would be too distracting.

Many states ban spontaneous memorials, though the laws are not often enforced to their full extent, Jipson said. Erdman isn’t suggesting any changes to how such memorials are regulated in Nebraska.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation will remove memorials if they are a “clear hazard” or they impede the ability to do work on the roadside and can’t be moved to a fence line, said spokeswoman Jeni Campana. The department then keeps removed memorials until they can be returned to the families.

Nebraska has no state law specifically about spontaneous roadside memorials, Campana said. Instead, the law regulates all objects near roads. But more consideration is given to keeping or moving memorials than campaign signs, for instance.

“There’s a lot of emotion attached to it,” she said. “We have to balance that along with our needs that go along the roadside,” including a “clear zone” on the side of the road.

Prison, mental hospital workers say they’re being ‘worked to death’; bill targets overtime

LINCOLN — State prison and mental hospital workers told state lawmakers Monday that they’re being “worked to death,” putting in up to four 16-hour shifts a week because high turnover and low pay are leaving posts unfilled.

“We literally see the inmates more than our own families,” said Carla Jorgens, who works at the State Penitentiary in Lincoln. “Our spirits are broken, and we’re worn down.”

But officials with the administration of Gov. Pete Ricketts said a legislative solution offered by State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln — capping the number of hours worked at no more than 12 hours a day — would make matters worse.

Corrections Director Scott Frakes said turnover is much higher than he’d like, at 31 percent for security staff, though turnover has leveled off after nine years of increases.

But Frakes said allowing the state to require front-line staff to stay and work another eight-hour shift — known as “mandatory overtime” — is necessary to ensure that all posts are filled and to protect staff, inmates and public safety. If the posts are not filled, he said, the state might have to consider emergency steps, such as calling in local or state law enforcement officers, or the National Guard.

“(Legislative Bill 345) is not the right answer to solve this problem,” Frakes said. “It would have significant and detrimental effects and throw the system into chaos. It’s a public safety disaster.”

Monday’s legislative hearing at the State Capitol was the latest chapter in long-running problems with staffing, and retaining staff, at Nebraska’s prisons. High turnover is also a problem among security staff at the state’s regional hospital, approaching 40 or 50 percent at the Lincoln Regional Center, one worker said Monday.

“Every single day, my phone rings … and I wonder if I get to go home and see my family or if I’ll have to work another 16-hour shift,” said Jason Swedlund of Lincoln.

Last year, vacancies in “protective services” positions at state prisons rose to 168, a 23.5 percent increase, requiring existing staff to either volunteer or be ordered to work a second shift to fill the posts.

The state spent more than $13 million for overtime pay in 2017, about double what was spent three years earlier.

Wishart, whose district includes some state prisons and the Lincoln Regional Center, said mandatory overtime is a prime reason turnover is high. She said some limit is necessary to protect prison workers’ safety and well-being, just as truckers and railroad conductors have limits on hours.

Under LB 345, workers could still volunteer to work more than 12 hours a day, but they could no longer be forced to do so.

Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who has led past legislative probes into problems at state prisons, said reducing mandatory overtime is key to resolving many of the problems facing the corrections system, just as it was “central” to resolving problems a few years ago at the Beatrice State Developmental Center.

But Bill Wood, the state’s chief labor negotiator, said wages and working conditions should be worked out through negotiations with the union representing such security workers, not in a legislative bill.

Recent negotiations between the state and the union ended in an impasse. Members of the corrections union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 88, deemed the state’s last offer — a 2 percent raise and a possible 0.3 percent increase for merit — to be unacceptable, given that county jails in eastern Nebraska are luring away state workers by offering up to $3 more per hour to start, and providing annual “step increases” to reward longevity.

Jim Maguire, the state Fraternal Order of Police president, urged passage of LB 345 to “force the hand” of the state to provide better wages.

The Legislature’s Business and Labor Committee took no action on LB 345 following the hearing, but Wishart said she expects the bill to be advanced for debate by the full Legislature this year.

Educators split on bill that would allow physical restraint against violent, disruptive students

LINCOLN — The words “physical force” were gone from this year’s version of a bill protecting teachers who use physical restraint against violent and disruptive students. But the change did little to mollify opponents.

School administrators, disability rights advocates and advocates for children all lined up against Legislative Bill 147 at a hearing Monday before the Education Committee.

On the other side was the Nebraska State Education Association, which represents teachers, and State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, who chairs the committee and introduced the measure.

He said the proposal, like a similar one two years ago, seeks to protect teachers so they can maintain order in their classrooms to promote education. He said teachers now fear the consequences of using physical means to deal with violent and unruly students.

“The teacher is the sergeant in that classroom and they are in charge on the battlefield, and we need to allow them to control their classroom,” Groene said. “Supporting this bill is supporting public education.”

NSEA Executive Director Maddie Fennell argued for the measure, saying that teachers need to know they are supported in addressing violent and disruptive students, while also working to meet the needs of students with a wide variety of disabilities and traumas.

“We’re trying to find a reasonable middle,” she said, so when students are “having behavior that’s really disruptive to the learning environment or dangerous, that we have the resources and the rights to protect that child from themselves and to protect other children.”

But representatives of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, the Nebraska Association of School Boards, the Nebraska Rural Community School Association and a secondary school principals organization spoke against the bill.

Brad Jacobsen, high school and middle school principal at Ashland-Greenwood, said the measure would drive a wedge between teachers and administrators by giving teachers the ability to have students removed from their classrooms.

Others argued that the measure would be used disproportionately against students with disabilities and minority students.

Edison Red Nest, a school board member from Alliance, raised concerns that restraints could be used disproportionately against Native American students just as Native American students are disproportionately represented in the district’s alternative high school.

Red Nest also related a personal experience of being restrained during his elementary school years for refusing to eat his spinach.

“The teachers held me down and force-fed me,” he said.

Property tax windfalls. Legislative Bill 103, introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha, would force cities, counties, school districts and other local taxing entities to have a separate public hearing, and take a vote, if they want to increase taxes when property valuations go up. Linehan said that. currently, entities can get a windfall when valuations go up and they don’t adjust their property tax levies downward to reflect the change.

Linehan, who chairs the Legislature’s Revenue Committee, said LB 103 would make it much clearer to taxpayers when their taxes are going up. Now, she said, there’s confusion. The process worked in Virginia, said Linehan, who used to live there. Board members would be more reluctant to raise taxes, she said, if they have to take a second vote.

Ricketts, when asked about the bill at a press conference Monday, said it fit with his goal of controlling spending to reduce property taxes.

LB 103 easily advanced from first-round debate on Monday. Only Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward spoke against the bill, saying that it was redundant and that lawmakers ought to be reducing government processes, not adding more.

Interest rate hike. Nebraska lawmakers balked Monday at advancing a bill that would have allowed installment loan providers to charge as much as 29 percent annual interest. Current law caps interest on such loans at 24 percent on the first $1,000 and 21 percent on any additional amount.

Legislative Bill 188 had cleared first-round debate with only Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth speaking and voting against it. Several senators joined him in opposition during Monday’s second-round debate, including Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who called the bill “unconscionable,” and Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, who argued that it would not help struggling families but would “allow them to go deeper and deeper in debt.”

Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, who introduced LB 188, said the measure would help people with dubious credit ratings by continuing to make relatively small loans available to them.

He said installment loan providers fill a niche between traditional banks, many of which have gotten out of the business of making small loans, and payday lenders, which charge even higher interest rates. Online lenders also typically charge higher rates. People often use such loans for debt consolidation, automotive repairs, home repairs and other needs.

Lindstrom said the higher rate cap would help installment loan providers stay in business. Nebraska had 33 such providers just a decade or so ago but is now down to 10. He said the providers struggle because their customers have a high default rate. OneMain Financial, which owns eight of the 10 remaining locations, backed the bill.

In the face of the opposition, however, Lindstrom asked to put the bill on hold while he worked on the issues raised.

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