After emotional vote, gun bill advances to second-round debate

Culture in Unicameral has ‘gone to hell’ says one senator after another lawmaker walks out

By: - March 11, 2022 1:06 pm
Gun rights

Gun rights advocates turned out in force a year ago to testify in support of a bill in the Nebraska Legislature that would allow ‘permit-less’ concealed carry of handguns. This year, the bill appears headed to approval. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — In a dramatic vote Friday, state lawmakers advanced a bill that would allow Nebraskans to carry a concealed weapon without obtaining a $100 state permit, undergoing a criminal background check or passing a gun safety class.

Sen. Justin Wayne
State Sen. Justin Wayne (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

Legislative Bill 773 still faces two more rounds of debate, and at least one supporter indicated he would oppose the bill if an amendment sought by the Omaha police is added to the legislation.

State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha provided the 33rd vote to invoke cloture and halt a filibuster against the bill.

Omaha amendment

But during floor debate, Wayne indicated that he would oppose LB 773 if the Omaha police amendment is added to the bill during second-round debate. 

The primary sponsor of the bill, Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, rejected the idea that Wayne’s stance could complicate the ability to overcome filibusters ahead and get the measure passed.

“We will get there,” Brewer said after the vote.

Meanwhile, Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld said he will continue to oppose the bill, which he sees as a public safety risk because it does away with the requirement of a gun safety course to carry a concealed weapon.

‘Not a solution’

“I don’t know what the solution to gun violence is, but I know what it’s not,” Morfeld said.

After Wayne provided the 33rd vote to invoke cloture, three other senators — Carol Blood, John McCollister and Jen Day — switched from “present and not voting” to “yes.” Thus, the final vote on cloture was 36-9.

State Sen. Tom Brewer
State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon
(Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

LB 773 later passed on a 35-9 vote, two more than needed for cloture. 

On Thursday, Alabama became the 22nd state to allow carrying a concealed weapon without a state permit when Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a similar bill into law.

Brewer drafted an amendment to the bill with the Omaha police department and its union to turn them from opponents to “neutral” on the so-called “constitutional carry” proposal. But debate on that amendment won’t come up until second-round debate.

‘Covered offenses’

The amendment would keep in place the Omaha ordinance that requires registration of handguns. It would also allow for the continued prosecution of the crime of “carrying a concealed handgun” if a concealed gun was used in a long list of “covered offenses,” from robbery and kidnapping to cockfighting and disorderly conduct.

The Omaha Police Officers Association had testified against LB 773 earlier this year, saying that as originally drafted, it would harm police efforts to combat street gangs.

Meanwhile, the Lincoln Police Department remains opposed to the bill, as does a state police chiefs’ association.

Omaha Sen. Wendy DeBoer said she opposed the bill because of the amendment. She said she may be legally carrying a concealed weapon, but under the amendment, she would face a much more serious crime if she wrote a bad check.

Debate got emotional

The debate over the gun bill got emotional at times, with one senator storming out of the chamber and another saying that the “culture” of not getting personal with colleagues during floor debate had “gone to hell.”

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh accused Brewer of “belittling” her over her concerns about gun-rights advocates openly carrying guns in the State Capitol.

 While that is not prohibited, she said that the clear intent was to “intimidate” her at a legislative hearing two years ago. Cavanaugh pointed out that people can’t carry a sign into a hearing, but they can carry a gun.  

Brewer had said yesterday that senators needed a “gut check” if they couldn’t take the pressures of being a legislator.

Cavanaugh stormed out of the chamber after a gun-rights supporter, Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling, accused her of disrespecting Sen. Brewer, a decorated military veteran, and of invoking the “cancel culture” against conservative senators.

‘Gone to hell’

Cavanaugh asked for a “point of order” to address the charge but wasn’t recognized for comment by the chair, which led her to walk out.

The incident prompted Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks to call on her colleagues to be “kinder” and question why “the adults” in the Legislature hadn’t stepped in during the exchange between Slama and Cavanaugh.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, who has served 12 years in the Legislature, said it wasn’t acceptable for debate to become personal. He added that political discourse had changed since he first was elected in 2006, becoming more like Washington, D.C.

“It’s gone to hell,” Lathrop said, of the culture in the one-house Unicameral.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.