Nebraska News

Bill to create statewide firearm possession laws draws significant opposition

By Vanessa Daves, Nebraska News Service

LINCOLN–Cities and towns throughout Nebraska have different ordinances dealing with possession of firearms.
Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln would eliminate the “patchwork of laws governing firearm possession,” which he said puts “Nebraskans unknowingly at risk” under LB68.
Under the bill, the Legislature would have “exclusive authority to regulate the ownership, possession, transportation, carrying, registration, transfer and storage of firearms, ammunition and firearms accessories,” according to the bill’s statement of purpose. Local jurisdictions could still regulate things like discharging firearms and setting policies for use of firearms by local law enforcement agencies.
At a hearing Friday, Hilgers said the bill would create a “consistent statewide legal framework” for firearm possession.
One example of differing ordinances, he said, is that Lincoln residents aren’t required to register their f! irearms, but Omahans are. People who travel from Lincoln to Omaha with firearms are often unknowingly breaking the law, he said. They could face a $500 fine or up to six years in prison as a result.
Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue asked how many people Hilgers knew of this happening to, saying that she had done some research and not found any such situations.
“Are we addressing a problem that, in theory, could happen but hasn’t happened in the last decade?” Blood asked.
Hilgers said he would try to find specific data for her.
The bill was introduced last year and fell one vote short of passage. Now, Hilgers said he is working with some who have opposed it, such as the Omaha Police Officers Association, to address any concerns.
Among the proponents of the bill were representatives of the National Rifle Association, the Nebraska Firearms Association and Nebraska Gun Owners.
Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner also testified in favor of the! bill but said that he had “some reservations.”
Charles Cox, executive director of Nebraska Gun Owners, said this is the “most important pro gun bill this session.”
Patrick McPherson, member of the NRA, said people “should not have to fear being made criminals by local ordinances.”
“As a resident of Omaha, how am I to know what laws apply in Lincoln, Grand Island, or Arthur, Nebraska?” McPherson asked.
LB68 also faced significant opposition. Among opponents were representatives from Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, Omaha City Council, Nebraskans for Peace and the Omaha Police Association. Teachers, students and other residents also testified against the bill. In total, six proponents and 30 opponents testified.
Many opponents criticized the fact that the bill was being heard by the Government, Military and Veteran Affairs Committee though matters dealing with firearms are typically heard by the Judiciary Committee.
“I believe that this bill has found its way to this committe! e through acts of deception,” said Thomas Lange, a resident of Hilgers’ district.
Sgt. Aaron Hanson of the Omaha Police Department has served as an officer for 20 years. He has spent the past two years in the gang unit. LB68 would eliminate the requirement for people to register their guns in Omaha, and Hanson said this would be a hindrance to solving gang crimes.
Lynn Rex of the League of Nebraska Municipalities read excerpts from Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler’s letter of opposition to LB68.
“On its face, LB68 voids 11 municipal ordinances in the city of Lincoln,” Rex said.
Teachers who opposed LB68 said it would make it easier to put guns in schools, which many testified would make schools unsafe for children.
Amanda Gailey, president of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, said there is “zero public safety justification for this bill” because it “puts guns in the hands of children, stalkers and drunk drivers.”
“If this bill becomes law, ! Nebraskans Against Gun Violence will be there to remind you of all the deaths you have caused,” Gailey said.
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Contact Vanessa Daves at nns.vdaves@gmail.com.

Furnas, Red Willow and Hitchcock producers eligible for cover crop initiative

NORTH PLATTE — A new program is now available for producers in Furnas, Red Willow and Hitchcock counties to receive assistance for planting cover crops to enhance soil health and wildlife habitat.
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program’s Cropland Cover Initiative provides financial and technical assistance to Ag producers who adopt multi-species cover-crop mixtures for improving soil health and wildlife habitat. Cost share is available for cover crop seed and planting.
The initiative is a partnership between the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and Nebraska Environmental Trust.
Goals of the initiative include providing habitat for upland game birds, providing forage for grazing, improving moisture infiltration, and suppressing weeds.
Applicants wanting to apply need to apply prior to February 17th.
Interested producers can find more information at www.ne.nrcs.usda.gov or contact their nearest  U.S. Department of Agriculture service center.

Nebraska’s state flag may be due for a change

By Colin Sinn, Nebraska News Service

LINCOLN-The Nebraska state flag has been a symbol of the state since 1925. But 2017 may be time for a change.
The North American Vexillological Association–an association that studies flags–voted the Nebraska flag in the bottom five of all the state flags. Sen. Burke J. Harr of Omaha wants to change that.
LR3 is a resolution proposed by Harr to appoint a task force to change the state flag.
Harr said he first thought about this in the fourth grade. His teacher didn’t like the flag, and now, neither does Harr.
“A flag needs to be instantly identifiable,” Harr said.
He said the Nebraska flag is not easily identifiable, even to Nebraskans themselves at times.
“I introduced this LR and unbeknownst to me, for 10 days our state, right out here, flew our state flag upside down,” Harr said. “Nobody noticed it.”
The Executive Board laughed at that anecdote, but Harr seemed to get the message across. The flag as it is seems of little importance to Nebraskans.
Suzanne Wise, the director of the Nebraska Arts Council, also supported LR3.
“I know that most people may see this as a project of insignificance,” Wise said. “But I think it is because our current state flag is itself such an object of insignificance.”
Wise said she is proud to be a Nebraskan and proud of many things Nebraska offers. She said she is most proud of the state’s uniqueness.
“We pride ourselves on being unique,” Wise said. “It’s galling that our state flag doesn’t embody that uniqueness.”
Ron Sack, an associate creative director at Bailey Lauerman, an Omaha-based marketing and advertising agency, also spoke in favor of a flag change.
Sack said a good flag should meet five criteria: simple, symbolic, few colors, no letters or seals and uniqueness. He said the Nebraska flag does not follow these rules.
“We need to keep it simple,” Sack said. “The flag should be so simple that a child could draw it from memory.”
He also said using the state seal is a mistake many states have made. Also, avoiding duplicating other flags is key. Nebraska’s blue flag and state seal are like other states’ flag designs such as Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Sack praised other flags that followed the five rules like the flags of Colorado, Alaska and Chicago.
Harr said the Legislature can address the flag resoution while still addressing appropriations and budget issues. He also said the resolution would be a great way for people to start talking about our state.
“We want to move up. We want to be something better,” Harr said.
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Contact Colin Sinn at nns.csinn@gmail.com