Bills passed last week on water, voting and prison sentences

LINCOLN -- April 10 was a busy day at the State Capitol aslawmakers passed bills that would create a water sustainabilityfund, allow same-day voting and reduce the recidivism rate of offendersreleased from prison, among other things. LB565, introduced by Sen. John Nelson of Omaha was one of those passed this week. The bill will create new procedures for registering to voteand casting an early ballot on the same day. Early ballots will be placed in an envelope with the voter's name and address and kept securely for counting. It cannot be counted if anacknowledgement of registration sent to the registrant is returnedundeliverable within 10 days of mailing. If it is not returned after 10 days, the ballot will be counted. The deadline for registering to vote and voting on the same day is the same as the deadline for voter registration. Lawmakers amended and advanced a bill from select file aftera cloture vote April 9. LB811, introduced by Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz, would update the list of banned synthetic drug compounds in Nebraska and would add another class of synthetic cannabinoids to the list of banned substances. The bill would revise the act to apply to substantiallysimilar imitations of prohibited controlled substances that may be developed in the future. An amendment brought by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop was adopted36-6 and incorporated provisions of his LB752. The amendment would expand the list of professions protected by enhanced assault penalties and increase the penalty to the next higher classification for assaults on firefighters, paramedics, state correctional employees, state Department of Health and Human Services employees and health care professionals. Lathrop said he introduced the amendment because attacks on first responders are happening more often and--unlike law enforcementpersonnel--firefighters and paramedics do not expect confrontation from the people they serve.Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha spoke in opposition to theamendment, saying that laws should not favor one group of people over another. Chambers offered two amendments that would extend protections to pizza delivery drivers and utility workers. Both amendments failed.Following adoption of a technical amendment offered by Chambers, Schilz filed a motion to invoke cloture--or cease debate and force avote on the bill--which was approved on a 38-3 vote.Senators then advanced LB811 as amended on a 44-4 vote.Final approval was given this week, to LB907, introduced by Sen. BradAshford of Omaha. The bill is intended to reduce the recidivism rateof offenders released from prison. The measure appropriates $5 million to the state Office of Probation Administration that will be used to expand mental health services and $3.8 million to expand new reporting centers. The state Department of Correctional Services will also be appropriated $5 million to create the vocational and life skills program and $200,000 to establish the Nebraska Center for Justice Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The bill also directs the department to develop a reentry program to transition inmates into communities and ensure an inmate's rehabilitation/reentry program is complete or near completion after serving 80 percent of his or her sentence.