Guns, Safety, Missouri River Management Debated

by Fred Knapp, NET News

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Feb. 27, 2020, 6:12 p.m.

The Nebraska Legislature is on a four-day weekend, and will resume meeting Tuesday. NET All Things Considered host Jack Williams interviewed statehouse reporter Fred Knapp Thursday afternoon on the latest developments.

Jack: Another busy day at the state Capitol today. Fred Knapp covers the Legislature and he joins us, Fred. There's been a lot of talk in the legislature recently about guns. What is the latest?

Fred: Yes, there has been a lot of talk and Thursday there was more. Back up to last week when there were hundreds of gun rights supporters who came in to oppose gun control bills. A very few of them, two or three, carried guns openly. Concealed carry in the Capitol is illegal, but not open carry. Among the bills they didn't like, was one red flag law proposed by Sen. Adam Morfeld, that would take away guns if people were judged to be a threat to themselves or others.

Morfeld reported a threat he received, alluding to the practice of some dictators of dropping their political opponents out of a helicopter. Thursday Morfeld said it was perfectly appropriate to have a discussion of the Second Amendment.

“But if you look at what's been handed out here today on this body, this floor, it is absurd. And the fact that we're not taking this more seriously, it's a disgrace,” Morfeld said.

Jack: What was he referring to?

Fred: It was a packet of Facebook posts passed out by another senator, Patty Pansing Brooks, who said she would not attend another hearing where people were carrying guns. The posts included some calling her a traitor and a tyrant, and one where one of the people carrying guns in the Capitol had reacted to someone posting “Kill your local politician” by saying “That’s a keeper.” Morield said that went too far.

“We need to have a forum in which people can feel safe and come and redress their grievances. I had no problem with those gun owners being down at the Capitol. I had no problem. I shook many of their hands. I talked to them. We had good conversations, any of my constituents that I knew that testified before that committee hearing, I went up and shook their hand afterwards, even though we're on opposite sides,” he said.

Jack: Did other senators weigh in?

Fred: Yes, among them was Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who like Pansing Brooks said she felt intimidated by people carrying guns. Cavanaugh said she's disappointed nothing's been done.

“I waited, I thought maybe we’d do something, that maybe we'd come together and do something, and we didn't. So I'm doing it. I’m submitting a rules change to make this building safer for the hearts and souls of every person that goes through those doors,” she said.

Jack: And where do things stand on a rules change or law change?

Fred: Sen. Mike Hilgers, who’s chair of the Executive Board -- the Legislature's internal governing body -- said the board is working on the issue. “Senator Cavanaugh, you are heard. You are heard. No one outside of this building can intimidate us. We will work together we will solve the problem. And we'll make sure that the safety of the individuals who work here, who are dedicating their lives to the betterment of the state are protected,” Hilgers said.

Hilgers said the State Patrol's been informed about the threats against senators, and he's meeting with the Patrol next week to talk about policy towards guns In the Capitol.

Jack: So what else is going on?

Fred: Well, there was debate on the resolution Thursday urging the Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize flood control on the Missouri River. The resolution was brought by Senator Julie Slama of Peru, whose southeast Nebraska district was heavily damaged by last year's flooding.

“We can't lose sight of the communities that have been left behind by the Corps’ mismanagement and lack of proactivity to prevent another disaster on this scale from happening,” Slama said.

Right now the Corps has a list of priorities it's supposed to balance, including protecting fish and wildlife, irrigation, navigation and recreation.

Jack: Was there any opposition to the resolution?

Fred: Sen. Ernie Chambers opposed it, saying it does nothing. And Senator Brett Lindstrom pointed out that earlier this year, some of the same people supporting the resolution had opposed his proposal to return state taxes on drinking water to local utilities, to help them improve infrastructure.

“It's one thing to do resolutions, and another thing to actually

provide taxes and funding back to those local utilities so they can actually do something about their predicament when it comes to flooding,” Lindstrom said.

Jack: So what was the outcome of the debate?

Fred: Well, the resolution was approved 43-1, with only Chambers opposed, and then the lawmakers took off for a four day weekend.