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Despite some failures, lawmakers did get some things done

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Despite some failures, lawmakers did get some things done

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Despite a warning that it was a Trojan Horse, lawmakers passed a bill to allow farmers to honor a practice first tried in Nebraska in 1887, growing hemp.

More than 40 years ago I wrote about a Panhandle farmer who still had the government contracts for growing Hemp during WWII. It’s not a new thing and just might be the right thing to boost a struggling agricultural economy that has been hammered by low commodity prices, tariffs and weather-related disaster.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp by removing it from the federal Controlled Substances Act. States that wish to regulate hemp production first must submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval. As passed, LB657requires the state Department of Agriculture to establish, operate and administer a program to license and regulate those who cultivate, process, handle or broker hemp, defined as cannabis with no more than 0.3 percent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive compound.

Among other requirements, license holders must be at least 18; not have had a cultivator, processorhandler or broker license revoked in the five years preceding the application; and not have been convicted of a felony related to a controlled substance within the preceding 10 years. License holders consent to background checks; entry onto and inspection of all sites where hemp would be cultivated or processed; testing of hemp samples; destruction of hemp found to have THC concentration greater than that allowed by the act; and annual inspections by the department to verify hemp is being grown by these guidelines.

Before the bill (LB657) passed, one senator cautioned this could be the Trojan Horse that opens the door to statewide legalization of marijuana. I will just assume the senator has never smoked or talked to anyone who did smoke Nebraska Ditch Weed. Lotsa fiber, not much rush.

A fee on hemp seed and hemp fiber sold or delivered in Nebraska will pay for a commission that will periodically report to the governor and the Legislature on policies and practices that result in the legal growth, management, marketing and use of the state’s hemp industry. Good for farmers.

Lawmakers approved a plan (LB149) to raise the legal age from 18 to 19 for purchasing and possessing electronic nicotine delivery systems, flavored liquids containing nicotine and tobacco products.

In an attempt to thwart the resale of such e-cigarettes and vaping devices to younger teens, Individuals younger than 19 who purchase or use such devices will be guilty of a Class V misdemeanor and an individual selling or providing such products to those under 19 will be guilty of a Class III misdemeanor.

A multi-faceted crime bill (LB686) was passed. Among the provisions:

* Allowing a court to enter a deferred judgment for a person found guilty of committing a crime and placing the person on probation. After successful completion of the terms of probation, he or she would have their charge dismissed without the entry of judgment. People without felony convictions, two or more prior deferred judgments or one in the past five years are eligible.

* Prohibiting a person from bringing an electronic communication device into a correctional facility or providing it to an inmate. Violation of this provision will be a Class I misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison, a $1,000 fine or both. Attorneys, public counsel employees, law enforcement and first responders are exempt from the prohibition.

The Corrections director also can exempt certain staff members as necessary. Seizure of an electronic communication device is authorized.

* Prohibiting the state Department of Corrections, after March 1, 2020, from placing a member of a vulnerable population in restrictive housing. Vulnerable populations include inmates who are younger than 18, pregnant or diagnosed with serious mental illness, developmental disabilities or traumatic brain injury. The department could create secure mental health housing.

All steps in the right direction.

Lawmakers passed a bill to allow counties of 150,000 or more residents (Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy) and metropolitan and primary class cities, to use a designbuild method for projects that fall under the Transportation Innovation Act. This bill is aimed at speeding up construction of Lincoln’s South Beltway project to connect Nebraska Highways 77 and 2 to divert major truck traffic from Highway 2 through south Lincoln. Good for Lincoln.

Any adult employed at a residential child-caring agency would be required to pay for fingerprinting and a national criminal history record information check at least once every five years. Employees will also be checked against state sex offender, criminal and child abuse and neglect registries under the Health and Human Services Committee sponsored bill passed by the Legislature. Good for the kids.

Despite their failure to act on several major issues, lawmakers did accomplish some minor victories.