Sen. Megan Hunt’s bill to allow drug felons who have served their prison time to receive government food assistance came up in the Legislature on Tuesday for the third time in a week. And filibustering delayed it once again.
It’s the Omaha senator’s priority bill, and she says not allowing the benefit is a major barrier to success for formerly incarcerated people. Allowing food assistance to those getting out of prison who have been convicted of using, possessing or dealing drugs, she said, can reduce hunger for families and children.
Opponents say they believe some drug felons would misuse the assistance they get. And Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, who said dealers were “despicable,” questioned the assertion that food stamps would stop inmate recidivism and reduce prison population.
It’s mid-session and some senators are getting a bit testy. Tuesday, the debate sparked a discussion among a few on the topic of social media, trust and civility.
Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist said it was time to address negative statements she was reading on social media, when robust debate in the Legislature was carried to social media, in particular Twitter.
“Then it goes beyond the debate. It singles out senators by name, sometimes by profession. It encourages ridicule. It allows followers to verbally eviscerate that senator,” she said.
It’s getting out of hand, Geist said, and does not reflect the values of Nebraska. She said she has made a commitment to her constituents not to participate.
The social media comments discourage people from getting involved in the political process because they see a lack of civility between senators, she said. It’s also destructive to the Legislature.
Senators, rather, need to work on developing trust, she said. She declined to name specific senators.
Sen. Julie Slama of Peru joined in, saying she had seen the difference in some senators’ conduct in person compared to how they present themselves on social media, disparaging the same senators they have played nice with at the Capitol.
“We need to realize that the next generation of Nebraskans are watching us,” she said.
Hunt said she believed she was one of those senators Geist referred to because of tweets she has posted critical of Gov. Pete Ricketts, and about Sen. Steve Halloran from the debate on raising the minimum wage for tipped workers (LB400).
Hunt said social media is a great way to open discussions in the Legislature to more people.
“I have never said anything on social media about my colleagues or people in the body or people in government that they didn’t say themselves on the record,” Hunt said.
If they are afraid what they say will be shared on social media, why do they feel comfortable sharing it on the floor, she asked.
“I have absolutely zero regret about anything I’ve said. I’m going to keep it up,” she said.
If Twitter followers tweet back things that offend senators, she has no control over that, she said. That’s the cost people in public service pay for their position. She knows, because it’s happened to her.
The debate on Hunt’s bill, which has surpassed four hours of discussion, will continue Wednesday. After six hours, Hunt can call for a cloture vote to end the filibuster and force a vote.