By ANNA GRONEWOLD
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Senators have approved Gov. Pete Ricketts’ choice to lead the Nebraska State Patrol despite concerns about his involvement in a gender discrimination lawsuit 10 years ago.
The Legislature voted 32-7 Tuesday to approve Bradley Rice of Elkhorn.
Opponents said they were most concerned about Rice’s testimony refuting remarks he reportedly made about women in law enforcement.
In 2004 and 2005, Rice was part of an interview panel that denied several promotions to a female sergeant. Carla Schreiber said the rejections were based on gender rather than her qualifications. She was awarded damages and the rank of lieutenant in 2007.
During the lawsuit, another trooper testified that Rice said women were not qualified to be in law enforcement, an opinion Rice initially denied.
But Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha said that was inconsistent with Rice’s appointment hearing last month, when he acknowledged he made the comment but said it was taken out of context.
“When you have someone who lies and is on the record, how do you ask that person to lead?” Harr said.
Chairman Sen. John Murante of Gretna defended the government committee’s unanimous decision to advance the appointment, saying Rice meets qualifications for the job and had both male and female troopers testify to his fairness and integrity.
At the hearing, Rice said there are only four women in upper management out of the State Patrol’s 385 sworn officers, but he does not believe gender should affect promotions for qualified candidates.
Sens. Kate Bolz and Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said that even though Rice is not responsible for the State Patrol’s poor record of recruiting and retaining women, he is not the strong leader the agency needs to implement diversity.
“We need more than OK, we need someone who is excellent and someone who is extraordinary and taking exceptional steps to ensure we’re doing the best that we can in an inclusionary, community-based, smart, equal manner,” Bolz said.
Supporters said Rice’s 29 years of acclaimed leadership with the agency gave them reason to believe his comments were a mistake that they hope will guide him to be inclusive in the future.
“I’ll give him a second chance,” Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said. “And hope I am correct in my evaluation this was a one-time inappropriate sojourn down a path of bias that he may or may not have had.”