Positive COVID 19 Test Abruptly Ends Legislative Hearing

LINCOLN, Neb. – A legislative hearing on a bill requiring Nebraska cities to set up civilian boards to investigate complaints of police misconduct ended abruptly Friday afternoon because of the coronavirus.

Omaha Senator Justin Wayne, who was chairing the hearing, suddenly interrupted the testimony of Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and announced he’d just received confirmation that someone in the hearing room had been exposed to the virus.

Wayne, who needed a super-majority vote earlier in the week to introduce the bill, said he was canceling the hearing “out of an abundance of caution,” but would accept testimony by email through Monday.

Before Wayne’s announcement, supporters of the bill had praised it was an important first step in bringing needed checks-and-balances with civilian oversight of police departments at a time of national protests over incidents of police misconduct.

Critics testified the bill was well intentioned but missed the mark. Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said the state’s largest city already has a multi-phase review process using the police department’s internal affairs unit, the chief, and an appointed citizen board that hears appeals of decisions by the chief.

Before his testimony was halted, Chief Schmaderer said the clearest way for a police department to fail is if the chief doesn’t have the power “to levy discipline or direct the culture of an agency,” and that the bill undermines that authority.