Ricketts, prosecutors blast Nebraska corrections bills

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Top Republican officials and prosecutors railed Thursday against a proposed overhaul of Nebraska’s prison laws, arguing the measures threaten public safety and that lawmakers ignored their input.

Gov. Pete Ricketts appealed to Nebraskans to contact their senator to urge a vote against the bills, which won first-round approval this week. The legislation has drawn criticism from Attorney General Doug Peterson, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, local prosecutors and police groups.

“Now is the time for Nebraskans to make your voice heard and to stand in support of Nebraska law enforcement, who work hard every day to protect public safety,” Ricketts said.

One bill would allow many felons to qualify for parole sooner, while another would dramatically reduce the number of cases in which prosecutors could seek “habitual criminal” status for repeat offenders.

Peterson said the bills would eliminate mandatory minimums for certain gun, drug and child pornography offenses when an offender has committed a felony twice before.

Stothert said senators aren’t taking Omaha’s gang problem seriously, and argued that the city needs the mandatory minimum laws in its efforts to crack down on gun and drug crimes.

Nebraska’s current habitual criminal law allows prosecutors to seek a minimum 10-year sentence for inmates with two prior felony convictions and who have served two separate prison sentences of a year or more.

Under the bill, the minimum sentence imposed couldn’t be more than one-third of the maximum sentence. Supporters say creating such a wide sentencing range gives inmates a strong incentive to change their lives because it gives them a chance to get out early on supervised parole. Those who are caught reoffending are returned to prison to serve the time remaining on their sentence, which could mean years behind bars.

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