Capitol Digest: Nebraska senators advance bill to help trafficking victims, but funding still needed

Capitol Digest: Nebraska senators advance bill to help trafficking victims, but funding still needed

By Martha Stoddard and Paul Hammel, World-Herald Bureau — 

The World-Herald’s Statehouse reporters round up news highlights from the Legislature and state government into the Capitol Digest — a daily briefing for the political newshound with a busy schedule.

Nebraska lawmakers gave first-round approval Monday to a bill that would build a framework — but provide no money — to help survivors of sex trafficking turn their lives around.

As introduced, Legislative Bill 518 would have put $450,000 a year into programs providing such support as housing, economic stability, education, counseling, legal aid, transportation and victim advocacy.

It would have marked the first time that state dollars were devoted to helping trafficking survivors.

The measure also would have provided $50,000 to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute sex trafficking in ways that respect the needs of trauma victims.

State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn introduced the measure, which was backed by Attorney General Doug Peterson as part of a broader push to battle sex trafficking in the state.

But the money was stripped from the bill before it got out of the Health and Human Services Committee last year as lawmakers faced pressure to rein in state spending.

On Monday, Linehan said the proposal would be limited in its effectiveness without sufficient resources.

She asked colleagues to give the bill first-round approval while backers look for a way to pay for it. The measure would allow services to be supported with private donations.

In the past, survivors of sex trafficking have often been charged with prostitution or other crimes, which increased their distrust of law enforcement.

Linehan said Minnesota saw convictions of sex traffickers increase 500% after changing its approach to working with the traffickers’ victims to emphasize support and services.

De-escalation training for teachers. The Education Committee took public testimony Monday about a bill designed to train all K-12 school employees on how to de-escalate and address violence in schools.

Robert Miller, a veteran elementary school teacher from Omaha, told the committee that he could have benefited from training on how to deal with unruly students as a young teacher. He said one of the students in his first class had several outbursts a day, wandering the classroom dumping bins of books or throwing pencils. The behavior brought teaching to a halt, he said.

Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil, the sponsor of LB 998, said he’s talked with teachers who have been hit, bitten, spit upon and kicked.

Under his proposal, $1.8 million in state lottery money would be set aside to teach school employees and instructors how to de-escalate a violent or disruptive student, and what is an appropriate or inappropriate response to an unruly child. Schools would have three years to train all their staff.

“Our main priority is safety,” Murman said.

Natural resources director to retire. Jeff Fassett, the director of the State Department of Natural Resources, has announced his retirement, effective Feb. 28.

Fassett has served as DNR director since August 2015.

During his tenure, Nebraska settled claims regarding Colorado’s past use of water under the Republican River Compact and completed major plans for water management in the Republican River and upper Platte River basins.

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