Along with Academy of Equity, Black and Pink, Black Leaders Movement, Change Now, Change of Omaha, Educators for Black Lives, I Be Black Girl, the Lincoln Branch of the NAACP, and the UNL Black Student Union, the ACLU of Nebraska issued an Aug. 17 public call for the Nebraska Legislature to reconvene for a special session dedicated to police reform and racial justice. More organizations have signed on since.
One week later, 11 state senators took a historic step by initiating a formal call for a special session. Senators had until Friday, Sept. 4 to tell Secretary of State Bob Evnen they wanted to reconvene. We needed 33 to sign on to make it happen, but unforunately Nebraska's state senators did not heed the call to address racial justice and police reform.
Racial justice is not a partisan or policial issue. A safer, freer, fairer, and healthier Nebraska benefits all Nebraskans.
Why a Special Session?
Protestors across the state have made their expectations clear. So did the nearly 100 people who testified at Judiciary Committee hearings. Racial justice can't wait.
State senators could have addressed this urgent need when they returned to session in late July and early August. While some progress was made, it is not enough. A special session was and still is necessary.
We need legislators and policymakers to look thoughtfully at our state laws and to commit to action that will bring accountability, transparency and justice while addressing the disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nebraskans of color. A special session would allow them to do just that.
Special Session 101
Unlike a regular session, a special session calls senators to the Capitol to focus on a specific topic. Special sessions aren’t uncommon. For example, in 2011, the Nebraska Legislature called a special session to enact legislation for the Keystone Pipeline and other related issues about eminent domain and landowner liability. In 2008, they had a special session to correct the scope of the safe-haven immunity law, which had already passed a few months prior in the regular session. The bottom line is that special sessions aren’t uncommon. Other states have called special sessions related to racial justice this summer and we should expect nothing less from our state senators.
Watch our government liaison explain special sessions:
We cleared key hurdles. Eleven senators initiated the call and Secretary of State Evnen accepted their petition as valid. He then mailed material to the remaining senators with a deadline of joining the call by 5 P.M. on Friday, Sept. 4.
If 33 members of the Nebraska Legislature agreed, they would have reconvened to enact legislation on policing, COVID-19 workplace protections, workplace discrimination, unemployment and evictions. While 33 senators didn't sign on, these senators cosigned the letter: Senators Cavanaugh, Chambers, Matt Hansen, Howard, Hunt, Kolowski, McCollister, Morfeld, Pansing Brooks, Vargas and Wayne.
Terms of Reconvening
Now more than ever is it time for an actual commitment and action to address the harm of systemic and overt anti-Blackness and racism in our communities. The letter lists the following specific focus areas for reconvening:
- Criminal law and criminal procedure relating to police power, police practices, and the scope and authority of peace officers to detain, arrest, and use force against civilians;
- To adopt statutory modifications to criminal law and criminal procedure relating to creation or modifications of crimes or offenses or the penalties for such any such crimes or offenses to ensure individuals and civilians are protected from discrimination based on race or traits or features historically associated with race;
- To adopt statutory modifications to provide for civilian oversight over police agencies of the various political subdivisions and the state;
- To adopt statutory modifications to employment law to ensure that employees and individuals are provided with protection from coronavirus infectious disease (COVID-19) at workplaces and that such protection is provided to all employees regardless of employees’ race or ethnicity;
- To adopt statutory modifications to ensure that testing, personal protection, and related services for COVID-19 are provided to all employees and individuals in a manner that avoids or prevents disparate treatment to employees and individuals based on their race or ethnicity;
- To adopt statutory modifications to employment law to ensure that those individuals who become unemployed due to COVID-19 receive adequate unemployment compensation as a disparate number of such individuals are people of color;
- To adopt statutory modifications to employment law and anti-discrimination law to ensure that employees and applicants are protected from discrimination based on race or traits or features historically associated with race;
- To adopt statutory modifications to housing and landlord-tenant law to minimize the racial disparity against those who are subject to evictions and homelessness;
- To reduce or eliminate appropriations or re-appropriations approved by the 106th Legislature to appropriate funds necessary to implement any of the statutory modification made as described herein this Proclamation;
- To appropriate funds for the necessary expenses of the extraordinary session herein called.
- Academy of Equity
- Black and Pink
- Black Clergy of Lincoln
- Black Leaders Movement
- Change Now
- Change of Omaha
- Educators for Black Lives
- Heartland Workers Center
- I Be Black Girl
- Immigrant Legal Center
- Indian Center
- NAACP Lincoln Branch
- Nebraska Appleseed
- Ponca Tribe of Nebraska
- Solidarity with Packing Plant Workers
- UNL Black Student Union
- Voices for Children
- Women's Fund of Omaha
- YWCA of Lincoln
What Partners are Saying
“As our work with community members grows and deepens, we feel obligated to reinforce the truth that the unicameral must answer the call of its constituents with a special session dedicated to the issues that truly matter. If we raise the floor, elevating the lived experiences of vulnerable communities, we increase the participation of all Nebraskans. We increase the common good. That’s the obligation of every senator in this body. We are all counting on you.”
- Ja Keen Fox, Academy of Equity
"Our communities deserve for the Nebraska legislature to keep our health and safety at the forefront of all that they do. Communities across Nebraska, specifically Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color and LGBTQIA2S+ communities, are impacted daily by the harm that is inflicted by law enforcement. In order for the people who are most impacted by oppressive systems to have access to health and safety, our state must prioritize defunding the police and seeking true alternatives to policing, including investing in community care and resources."
- Dominique Morgan, Black and Pink
"The Legislature has failed to address the most important issues facing citizens this session. Black Leaders Movement stands with the ACLU in demanding a special legislative session to address police reform in our state."
- Paska Juma, Black Leaders Movement
“The summer may be ending, but this movement is not. The fight for justice and equality for Black lives and other POC is still in hot pursuit. A special session would allow us to continue the legislative aspect of this movement and, hopefully, get bills passed that can counter the oppressive nature of the systems and policies we have in place. Quite frankly, it would be a further injustice to not go forward with a special session when there are so many bills and proposals that need to be addressed to combat the systemic oppression minority communities are facing. The time for change is now, and it absolutely cannot be pushed aside or delayed.”
- Kiara Williams, Change Now
"Legislation must evolve with the concerns and demands of its constituents. Legislators have the power to make this happen. Calling for a special session is a call for both accountability and equity. As calls to action have echoed throughout the state of Nebraska since May, our senators must prioritize antiracism now more than ever."
- Charita Dailey, Change of Omaha
"A refusal to intentionally prioritize antiracist policies is a choice to ignore the poison of racism in our community. Our students are just one voice of many demanding action and it is time for our elected officials to listen: we can no longer be silent about the ways racism infiltrates our community."
- Educators for Black Lives
"Nebraska senators have important decisions and legislation to consider so holding a special session is imperative. Now is the time to decide who we want to be as leaders, policymakers and a state. We have to prioritize humanity and the issues that we have not resolved cannot wait."
- Ashlei Spivey, I Be Black Girl
"Racial justice must prevail for all Nebraskans".
- Dewayne Mays, President Lincoln Branch NAACP
"As legislators for the State of Nebraska you all have a moral obligation, now more than ever, to actively pass, create, and initiate policy work that is meant to serve your communities of colour. We have protested, pleaded, and met with many of you. Now is the time to act."
- Batool Ibrahim, UNL Black Student Union