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Senators raise concerns over immigration bill

March 2, 2011

Sen. Charlie Janssen defends his bill, LB48, to the Neb. Judiciary Comittee

Story by Ellen Jean Hirst and photos by Kyle Bruggeman

A public hearing for Nebraska’s immigration law Wednesday afternoon gave the Nebraska Judiciary Committee an opportunity to question Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen about his bill.

The Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act, LB48, would require police officers, when enforcing other laws, to verify the status of anyone they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally. The bill is modeled after Arizona controversial law that’s tied up in court.

For more than an hour, Janssen answered questions and listened to comments from the judiciary committee before proponents and opponents of the bill had their chance to speak.

Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln began the questions, asking Janssen about potential economic implications of the bill. This bill, Janssen replied, would ultimately produce a “positive economic impact.” McGill also said she thinks Janssen is ignoring the population of legal citizens who may be suspected of being illegal based on skin tone or accent.

Chairperson Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha said he believes the bill’s language, specifically the term “reasonable suspicion,” is not clearly defined.

“When you can’t define reasonable suspicion… we can’t reasonably enforce this thing,” Ashford said.
Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha asked Sen. Janssen about a similar concern.

“Other than skin tone and command of the English language, what would be cause for reasonable suspicion?” Lathrop asked.

Janssen initially said skin tone would not be cause for reasonable suspicion, but later said that skin tone, in conjunction with other factors, such as failing to provide a driver’s license, could.

Former U.S. Magistrate David Priester ruled on many cases involving reasonable suspicion and testified in opposition of the bill. He said “reasonable suspicion” is something determined on a case-by-case basis.

“It is more than a hunch, but less than reasonable suspicion,” Priester said.

Janssen said it is up to the police to define reasonable suspicion.

But Deputy Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer expressed concern about this in his testimony. He said that because it is not well-defined, it will be hard to train officers. Schmaderer said he thinks the bill is an “unfunded mandate.”

He fears that he does not have the manpower to enforce it, but that if it became law, of course, he would. Schmaderer’s final concern was that citizens, legal and illegal, would be afraid to work with the police in investigating crime.

The constitutionality of the bill, which is similar to Arizona’s immigration bill, was questioned extensively. John Freudenberg, representing Attorney General Jon Bruning, said he believes the bill is constitutional.

Janssen said in February that he did not expect his bill to get the required five votes in the Judiciary Committee to advance to the legislative floor. A majority of the eight-member committee view illegal immigration enforcement as a federal issue, Janssen said.

“We’re never gonna get there Charlie,” Ashford said. “We’re never gonna get there until the House and the Senate vote… I understand your (Janssen’s) pain… We got it – something has to be done.”

Sen. Burke Harr asks questions during the hearing.

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