Update: This transcript has been updated to reflect the current AP Stylebook guidelines.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD.
[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News,” an hour dedicated to learning more about what is going on in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. I am the News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman.
Today is the last episode of our election coverage for the 2022 General Election. We have covered as much of that ballot as we could fit into the month of October and we are going to wrap up with interviews from the County Attorney candidates and overviews of the proposed initiatives.
But, first, a reminder: we are three days away from election day. Deadlines for registering to vote and requesting mail-in ballots have passed. If you have not already done those things, you will need to vote in person. If you aren’t sure where your polling location is, you can head to votercheck.necvr.ne.gov/voterview/ to double-check your polling place and registration information. Polling locations will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on November 8th.
Additionally, the Lancaster County Election Commissioner, David Shively, announced that the Lancaster County Election Commissioner’s Office will be open additional hours for Early Voting in advance of the November 8th general election. The office – which is located at 601 North 46th Street, will be open today from 8:00 a.m. to noon and Monday, November 7 from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you have any further questions, you may call the election office at (402) 441 – 7311.
Now we have a coin here. We are going to flip and see which of our County Attorney candidates will go first. If it lands on heads, incumbent Pat Condon of the Republican party will be joining us first. If it’s tails, Adam Morfeld who is representing the Democratic party will go first.
[Sounds of a coin being flipped.]
And it is tails. That means Adam Morfeld, representing the Democratic Party, is joining us first. Welcome, Mr. Morfeld. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: So, my name’s Adam Morfeld and I’m running for Lancaster County Attorney and I currently am a state senator representing District 46.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So let’s start off with an easy question. Why do you wanna run for county attorney and what experience are you bringing to the office?
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Yeah. So number one reason why I’m running for county attorney is to make our community more safe. And so public safety, transparency, and accountability are the things that I’m running on.
And, you know, in terms of experience, I’ll get into the details of what that means. [Be]cause we could talk about that for probably about the rest of the interview.
But, you know, in terms of experience I graduated from the University of Nebraska College of Law over 10 years ago now, which is kind of weird to say. Time flies. I’ve served in the Nebraska legislature for the last eight years as a state senator from Northeast Lincoln. And, during that time, I’ve served on a judiciary committee, which deals with all of our criminal and a lot of our civil procedure and other types of laws dealing with governmental subdivisions and liability and stuff like that. And then, in addition, I’ve served on the education committee as well.
When I was in undergrad, I started a nonprofit called Civic Nebraska. So we are a legal and direct services nonprofit that really focuses on getting people more involved and engaged in their community and their democracy. So we represent individuals – individual voters – regardless of their political party and ensure that they have the right to vote. And we’ve filed litigation on voter’s behalf before. And, so, I’ve been running that agency for the last 14… going on 15 years. And we have about a little over 80 staff, which is actually very comparable to the county attorney’s office as well, in terms of staffing.
And, in addition, I have managed litigation teams on numerous different issues: a lot of issues that have started out in district court and gone all the way to the Supreme Court. I’ve also argued before the Nebraska Supreme Court as well. So that’s a little bit about me, my experience, and why I’m running.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. So one of the things that your opponent says most often is that he has more experience than you. What do you have to say to that statement?
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Well, “I bring a different kind of experience,” is what I say to that statement. And he’s, I think, 62? 63-years-old? So he’s got about, you know, whatever the math is. 25, 26 years on me. And so, of course, he’s gonna have a little bit more experience by virtue of age.
And, quite frankly, he has worked in the same office for several decades. And so, yeah, he brings a different kind of experience. And I bring also a different type of experience that’s equally, if not, in my estimation, more valuable.
And the type of experience that I bring is one [of] extensive management experience. I actually have much more experience creating and managing an agency the size of his, than he does. In addition, I also bring a wealth of policy experience as a member of the Judiciary committee. I have sat there for 8 years and listened and worked with law enforcement, community advocates, folks from all across the spectrum, all across the state, trying to keep our community safe and solve really important issues dealing with criminal justice. And I’ve been very successful in introducing and passing legislation to do just that.
And, so, management experience, policy experience. I have been in the courtroom. I understand how litigation works. I’ve participated in litigation, I’ve filed things, I’ve managed entire legal teams. And, so, I bring a different kind of experience. I bring an experience that the office really needs because it’s mostly been run by the same type of person, like Mr. Condon, for the last 30 or 40 years. And so we need change and we particularly need change [at] this point in our time when our prisons are overcrowded and it’s not reducing our violent crime problem.
Homicides are up, gun violence is up. There’s no denying that. So the strategies that the current county attorney has been employing for the last 32 years [are] not working.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Now, I do have a couple [of] questions about things that you just mentioned. But we’re gonna circle back around those because I’ve heard you… you’ve done several debates and forums at this point in the campaign. I’ve heard you talk on everything from abortion to marijuana, but I haven’t really heard you speak on this one subject yet. What is your highest priority if you were to be elected?
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: My highest priority… I actually have.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Oh, okay.
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Yeah, no, you’re fine. I mean. My highest priority, and I don’t mean this to be vague, is public safety. And that is not what this current county attorney is prioritizing.
This current county attorney is spending excessive amounts of time prosecuting minor drug possession cases as felonies. Now, he did that with marijuana until a judge told him to stop in 2018. But he’s still doing it with drug residue cases, automatically charging them as felonies. It makes no sense.
Other jurisdictions like Douglas County and Sarpy County… they don’t do that because it doesn’t make any sense. And, so, instead of focusing on solutions to solve violent crime in our community, instead of trying to focus on how can we bring law enforcement and other community advocates and education folks together to address some of the systemic causes of this… he’s busy focusing on strange, nonviolent crimes and charging them with felonies.
And, so, my number one priority, my number one focus is public safety. And Mr. Condon thinks that locking nonviolent folks up for years for very small amounts of drugs increases public safety. But the data doesn’t lie. Public safety has not increased under his watch as the chief law enforcement officer. And, so, public safety’s gonna be our top priority and we’re gonna do it in a way where we actually reduce crime.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. So my next question touches on a variety of things that you’ve already sort of talked about. You are a vocal advocate for expanding or creating more diversion or problem-solving courts. Can you discuss that a little more?
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Yeah, you bet. So right now we do have some good diversion and problem-solving courts in Lancaster County.
Some of those courts were created after legislation that myself and others co-sponsored in 2000… oh, would’ve been 15 or 16. And so so we’re gonna keep those programs. But what we’re gonna do is expand access to it. And what that looks like is, we are gonna make it so that the eligibility for folks that go into those programs are expanded.
I’ll give you two very concrete examples. One; right now we have eligibility criteria for diversion programs where if you have had at least two or more misdemeanors in the past, you are automatically ineligible for diversion. Which makes no sense. Some of these misdemeanors were nonviolent, quite frankly, and some of them in many cases were from 10, 20, 30 years ago. And so what we need to do is we need to make sure that we have an assessment of each individual that is going into our criminal justice system. Are they a threat to themselves or others or the community? If the answer is no, then why do we have these unnecessary restrictions than them getting the help that they need while still having that accountability? So that’s the first thing.
The second thing that really reduces people’s… hesitancy, for lack of a better term, to go through diversion programs, is that currently in Lancaster County – and this is a choice Lancaster County has made, much like the two misdemeanor policy – making it so that when people agree to diversion, they don’t have to plead to every single charge in order to get access to diversion. Right now, the county attorney’s office, what they’ll do is you get picked up for a little bit of drugs or something like that. It’s not distribution level or anything like that, and they charge you with two, three, sometimes four felonies depending on what’s going on or what the circumstances are. Well, in order to be able to be eligible for diversion, you have to agree to plea to all of those felonies if you mess up in diversion.
And, so, for a lot of people that are dealing with substance abuse issues, they know it’s a high likelihood – despite their best efforts – that they’re probably gonna relapse once or twice. And studies show, usually people relapse two, three times before they get better. And so a lot of people don’t even use diversion. They just plea down to whatever the best deal they can get. And then they don’t get any help. Because we all know that when they go into our criminal justice system, they generally aren’t getting the services that they need. And, so, what we’re going to do is we’re gonna expand eligibility for folks for the diversion and problem-solving courts.
In addition, I’m gonna work very closely with the county commission and the state legislature to continue getting more resources to our problem-solving courts and our diversion programs. Something that we’ve already been working on and have already been doing in expanding these resources for the diversion programs and those mental health courts and so on.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Is that going to, I suppose, for a lack of better terms, help with Nebraska’s systemic prison overcrowding problem?
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Yeah, so we just recently had an interim study on problem-solving courts. And we had a lot of different stakeholders come in. One was actually one of our Supreme Court justices, Justice Funke. He came in and I think he’s spearheading it on the court side. He came in and said a few different things. One, if you go through a problem-solving court, the recidivism rate goes down from 30% to 19%, which is pretty compelling. In addition, housing somebody in a prison, depending on the estimates you look at, generally costs about $50,000 a year. Problem-solving court? $5,000 a year on average.
And, so, one; it’s gonna reduce recidivism in crime. Two, it’s gonna reduce the amount of people in our prisons. And then, three, it’s also going to save the taxpayers a lot of money. Now we can then reinvest in the problem-solving courts and in the services and still have money left over for property tax relief. Bridges, schools, you name it.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then, of course, we do have a couple of specific questions as well. Now, obviously, during your debate with Mr. Condon, you had some very hot-button topics that came up.
So one of those topics, of course, is going to be the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Now I do just want to have a review of your answer for the public since I know that is something that’s heavily on the mind of our citizens right now.
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Yeah. So my number one priority is going to be public safety. And we are not going to focus on things that do not lead to increased public safety. So, criminalizing reproductive care between a woman and their doctor does not lead to public safety. What it does is it leads to people not getting the medical care that they need, which could endanger their life. Or it leads to them doing other things; going underground, getting illegal abortions, doing things like that.
In addition, criminalizing doctors and sending them to prison for providing critical reproductive care does not make our community more safe, it does not help us recruit physicians and retain them. And, so, it’s just simply not going to be a priority of our office and it’s simply not going to be a crime, if it’s made of crime, that we are going to investigate.
Now, my opponent likes to first answer this question by saying, “Well, I don’t like to talk about hypotheticals.” And then in the end he always says, “I’m gonna enforce the law, whatever it may be.” Well, there’s plenty of laws that he chooses not to enforce or enforce every single day. And, so, for him to say he’s not already picking and choosing… Go talk to any deputy county attorney. Go talk to any criminal defense attorney. Go talk to anybody who observes the courts. They see the County Attorney’s Offices picking and choosing which laws they’re gonna prioritize or not prioritize every single day. He decided to charge people with felonies for minor possession of marijuana, marijuana gummy, and a marijuana cookie. In one instance, a felony. He chose to charge that a certain way and enforce that law a certain way. So going back to your original question, we simply will not criminalize reproductive healthcare decisions that should stay between a woman and a doctor.
Why? Because one, that should just be a decision that stays between a woman and a doctor. But two, it does nothing to advance public safety. In fact, it negatively impacts public safety.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now we’ve also talked a lot about possession charges and the current culture around drugs in Nebraska. And part of that discussion has certainly been the legalization of marijuana.
Now, as you’ve mentioned, your focus is on public safety. However, I do want to know, if Nebraska were to legalize marijuana, we’d probably see a number of individuals who have been incarcerated in the past for marijuana-related offenses coming back to contest their cases, correct? How would you handle that situation?
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Well, what we would have is we’d have a bunch of people that were convicted that would likely wanna be pardoned. So, in terms of that… I mean, what we would do is help them with those pardons. Write letters of support. Whatever the case may be, particularly if it was simply just for a drug possession violation.
Now, if there’s other things, like some type of violent activity or criminal activity other than just the possession of marijuana, then we’d have to… we’ll review that in a case by case, right? But in terms of folks that simply possessed marijuana, got a felony – like many people did under this current county attorney – those are things where we will assist them in getting pardoned.
That being said, ultimate power and authority for the pardons rest with the executive branch on the state level. I believe it’s the secretary of state, the governor, and the attorney general that ultimately make that decision.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then this next question has more to do with the local and national law enforcement conversation. Now they’ve been under heavy scrutiny for the last couple of decades and more so the last couple of years for excessive force cases, crimes that officers commit while in service, that sort of thing. How do you plan to handle those internal investigations as part of your position?
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Yeah, well, you know, anytime you have a deadly use of force incident involving law enforcement or folks in the custody of the state, there’s automatically a process in statute that gets initiated. Grand jury, things like that.
And so we’re gonna one, follow the law, but two we’re gonna be fair. You know, we know that law enforcement folks, they have a tough job. They’re put in tough positions every day. So we’re gonna follow the statutory process and we’re gonna look at the circumstances and we’re gonna make sure that we’re fair in the way that we investigate and the way that we charge.
So, I’ve worked a a lot with law enforcement across the state and our local community. They are some incredible individuals that are doing tough work every single day. One of our number one problems right now is recruiting and retaining really good officers. And so, I’m gonna continue to advocate for resources and training and salaries that make it so that we retain and recruit really good officers so that we don’t have any unlawful use of force incidents because people are well trained and we have really good officers.
And so, going back to your original question, now, we’re gonna follow the law when use of force is used and we’re gonna be fair in terms of how we analyze that and looking at the circumstances that led up to any use of force.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then we’ve tried to cover just a variety of of topics. However, I’m out of questions. Is there anything that you want to talk about that you feel we haven’t covered yet today?
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Yeah, I mean… I just… I would encourage, if anybody has any questions or anything, we’re very accessible. I mean, just go to www.adamorfeld.com. I’ve got an email button up there. I check my own email. I respond to my own email. I responded to several people that emailed me last night with questions, concerns, things like that. And so I really encourage people to reach out to me. I pride myself in being accessible.
The other thing I would say is, a lot of people talk about Mr. Condon’s experience, as we discussed earlier. I have a lot of experience in both the crafting of criminal code and the courtroom. I also have experience in working together with people, bringing people together around common ground and issues. Those are really important things. This is an office with 40 full-time attorneys and 40 support staff. And, so, having a strong administrative and policy making leader is really important. It’s much like the Attorney General’s office. We’ve had plenty of attorney generals who have not been prosecutors. One’s running for Attorney General right now and is not a prosecutor. And, really what it comes down to is having good people in there that understand our legal system, both civil and criminal justice, and people that are also reflective of the ideals of the community.
And the bottom line is that my opponent – who has publicly said he would enforce a total abortion ban, has publicly said that he will also enforce a gay marriage ban if the Supreme Court overrules that as well, and constitutional ban on gay marriage goes back into effect. A person that has put people away for possessing very small amounts of marijuana as felonies, and a person that quite frankly does not prioritize some of the domestic abuse and sex crimes in our community. And I’ve heard from a lot of victims and survivors. That type of person that does all those things simply is not reflective of the values of our community. So what’s most important is that we have a county attorney that is reflective of the values of our community. A county attorney that is focused on public safety and a county attorney that has a history and experience running large organizations and bringing people together and doing the job well. And I’m that person.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down with us, especially because I know November 8 is quickly approaching, so you must be busy. But we look forward to seeing the results from November 8. Best of luck to you in that election.
Adam Morfeld, Democratic Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Okay, thank you.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: That was County Attorney candidate Adam Morfeld, representing the Democratic Party.
Now we have a quick break scheduled but once we are back in the studio, it is Pat Condon’s turn to talk about his campaign for re-election for the County Attorney position. Stick around to learn more.
[“KZUM News” transition music, an original piece composed by Jack Rodenburg, fades in and then out. KZUM Radio’s usual underwriting and public services announcements air at scheduled times throughout the hour.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Welcome back.
Before the break, we flipped our handy dandy coin to see which of our County Attorney candidates would get to head into the studio first. Democratic candidate Adam Morfeld won that coin toss and we discussed his priority of public safety and how that would influence his term if he were elected.
Now we have Pat Condon joining us in the studio. Mr. Condon is the incumbent candidate, representing the Republican party. He has been serving as the Lancaster County Attorney for the last five years and is currently running for re-election.
Good morning, Mr. Condon.
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Good morning.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: How are you?
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Good, thank you.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. So can you start us off by telling us a little bit about the changes to the office that have occurred under your guidance and what your number one priority would be moving forward?
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Well, I mean we’ve had some obvious changes; just physical location. I mean, this year we had been at… on the fourth floor of the 575 building. And we grew out of that space. So, we moved over to the 605 building, which used to be the jail. So a lot of people think that’s a little ironic that the prosecutors moved into the jail. But we have that pretty much the entire second floor of that of the 605 building. So it gave us a lot of room that we needed and a little room to grow. And, as the city is going, we’re gonna need that.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. So for this upcoming term, what would be your number one priority in the position?
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: The priority is basically to continue doing what we’ve done, what I’ve done in the last five years, and what I’ve done over the last 32 years in the office. And that is just working with our law enforcement and our community to keep Lancaster County and Lincoln a safe place to work and live and raise your family.
I mean, that’s the key goal of our office is to do that. And, so, that’s what I want to continue to do. I think we’ve done a good job at doing that. And, you know, we have several programs that we have, that I’m sure we’ll get into, but several diversion programs, several problem-solving courts, and to continue on with those, to maintain the high level of standards that we have in those programs. And then always look for things, ways we can improve, or other programs that we can initiate.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You did mention those diversion and problem solving courts. Obviously, your opponent, Adam Morfeld, has talked very extensively about public safety being one of his priorities and looking to expand upon and improve the accessibility to those options. Are you also looking at expanding and improving those options for local accessibility?
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Oh, I think that’s always something that somebody in this office should be doing. I mean, we should always be looking at ways to expand those options and make them available to the public.
You know, I’ve heard him say that and, you know, maybe it’s poor marketing on my part but I don’t think people realize the extent of the programs that we have. So when somebody says, “Oh, I wanna do that,” and maybe you’ve asked him and interviewed him, but what is he talking about? What does he wanna see? You know, what are the changes that he wants to see? Or what are the programs that he wants to see developed?
And, I mean, I think one thing that you look at is what do we already have? And, like I said, I don’t think a lot of people know of all the programs, you know, our five diversion programs that we have, our three problem-solving courts that we have.
So I think there’s a lot of things out there that people don’t know we already have and that we’re doing too. And that’s on the criminal side. We also have juvenile family courts, problem-solving courts, and diversion programs in our juvenile division also. So we have a pretty robust diversion program.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You mentioned that you have five current diversion programs, three current problem-solving courts. Can you just run through those really quickly for us?
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Sure.
The first in our diversion – and the difference between diversion and problem-solving courts, diversion is something that county attorneys can initiate on their own. If they develop a program or have the resources to help in developing programs, we, as county attorneys throughout Nebraska, can develop diversion programs. Our problem-solving courts are just that; they’re courts and I can be involved in the establishment of a court, but the Supreme Court has to give their approval for problem-solving courts.
So, I know my opponent has said, “Oh, I’m gonna start a problem-solving court. Well, you can’t just say, “I’m gonna start a problem-solving court.” You gotta go to the Supreme Court and get permission to do that. And because there’s judicial resources involved in those problem-solving courts.
Our problem-solving courts that we have [include] drug court which was started back when Gary Lacey was county attorney. That’s our longest-running court. Our veteran’s court is our next court. That was started in 2000. We began in 2016 to start establishing it and then it began operation in 2017. Joe Kelly was really working on getting that started. I helped kind of get it going once Joe left. And then the DUI court, we just started in 2021. That’s a pilot court program that we’ve started with, again, with the permission of the courts. We started that DUI court. All our problem-solving courts deal with felonies, so individuals that are charged with felonies.
The DUI court is a little bit different from the other courts in that at the end of the programming, the individual is still convicted of a DUI conviction. And that’s something that, in developing the program, something I wanted and something that some of our service people or some of our community partners wanted and in particular M.A.D.D (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), they wanted to have a good conviction for enhancement should that individual get into trouble again. So that’s what we did and we have that now.
Veterans Court, initially we didn’t take crimes of violence and domestic violence. We didn’t take those felony cases in. And, in looking at that, as we started getting more and more into that program, that’s where a lot of the veterans struggle when they come back home is in the family and dealing with their family. So, we started letting veterans into the Veterans Court with domestic violence-type offenses. But again, at the end of that process, they plead to a misdemeanor. Their sentence is on a misdemeanor, a domestic violence case. And that allows us, again, one, for enhancement purposes, if they get in trouble down the road – of course, we always hope that that won’t be any more trouble. And it also restricts their ability to own a firearm for seven years. So, kinda gives us that period of time to make sure that they can get everything, you know, that they remain in the, you know, remain you know, active members of the community that aren’t involved in criminal activity.
So that’s just one of the things that we’ve done. So our d… and then our drug court, those cases are just dismissed outright at the end of the drug court. All our problem-solving courts have a judge, a member of my office, a member from the defense attorney, or the Public Defender’s Office law enforcement personnel.
Veterans Court have our mentors, which are veterans that have previously served in the armed services. We try to team, you know, if there’s an individual in Veterans Court that was in the Marines, we try to team up a Marine as their mentor. And if they were in the branch of the army, we try to get an army mentor in too, so they have that connection with… the participant has that connection with their mentor.
And then in… so, that’s how our problem-solving courts run and who’s involved with those. And then our community pro-partners that work for the treatment programs that we have; the inpatient, outpatient, or intensive outpatient programs that we have. We deal a lot with our community providers to help out with that.
So that’s our problem-solving courts.
On our diversion programs, we have five diversions. We have our standard pretrial diversion. We have a veteran’s diversion. Joe Kelly started that veteran’s diversion prior to starting veteran’s court. And then I’ve initiated our intensive supervised diversion program, our mental health diversion, and our treatment diversion. So we have five. And that’s in the criminal end.
In our juvenile end, we also, as I said, we have family, adult, or juvenile family court there. And then we also have diversion programs in our juvenile division. SAMI comes to mind, some of our other programs that we have. And we also then… my chief deputy of my juvenile division spends about a half a day every day out in the schools, working with the administrations of the schools, and the counselors in the schools, and trying to make sure we keep kids in school and solve issues that we have with students in the school, in the court system.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Obviously, one of the things that we wanna talk about when it relates to diversion and our public courts is our current overcrowding problem in prison. Do you feel that diversion and these problem-solving courts help with the fact that we are currently at 152% capacity according to their last quarterly report?
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Yeah, I mean, that’s always something we look at. I mean, again, as a prosecutor, I look at the laws that the legislature gives, passes, and then we enforce those laws. And the legislature sets the penalties and then the courts… actually the judge is the one that sentences. So I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate for us to make a charging decision on a case based on the capacity of our jails or prisons.
I, you know, that to me seems to be the wrong thing. And the legislature can deal with that either by, you know, if the legislature wants to reduce the penalties, they can do that, or if they want to do something, you know, move forward on increasing the population or the bed space at the prisons, they can take that option.
But, I think, you know, one of the things… so I don’t look at it in the sense of is that something that I based my decision on whether I charge an individual. But I am aware of it and, again, I think our problem-solving courts are about… I think we, last time we looked, at about 6 to 7% of the criminal population go through problem-solving courts. And I would like to see that get up to at least 10%. And that is diverting some of our individuals away from the prisons. And, for the most part, it diverts them away. You could say, I guess you could say immediately because they won’t be going in for that charge. But it also, hopefully, then keeps them from getting in trouble again and having the potential to going back into prison, had they not been involved in a problem-solving court or a diversion program. So that’s what we’re trying to do. And I think, I think it is working.
I think we’ve seen these programs have been successful. Our drug court and our veteran courts have both been nationally recognized. So we have vets courts and drug courts from around the country that kind of come in and watch how we do things and use that to develop their courts.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Oh, that’s really fascinating. I didn’t know that.
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Yeah.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then, I have to ask. You’ve had several debates with your opponent and it’s brought up some real hot-button issues. Of course, with the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, Nebraska officials are seriously considering making abortions outlawed here statewide. If that is to happen, do you plan to actively prosecute individuals for having abortions?
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Well, and I think, you know, that, and I appreciate that question, and I think what I look at is what are the statutes again that the legislature passes and the laws that the legislature passes. I mean… Right now the abortion law is 20 weeks. You cannot have an abortion after 20 weeks is a Nebraska statute. Nebraska statute also says the woman cannot be prosecuted, period. So when my opponent says I’m gonna be prosecuting the women and the doctors… As it is now, I can’t do that. I mean, it’s impossible to prosecute the woman because of the way the statute is written.
And the county attorney’s office does not have an investigative… I mean, we are not an investigative branch. We don’t investigate crimes. We take the crimes that are brought to us by the Lincoln Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the State Patrol, UNLPD. So they bring us those crimes and then they bring us those cases. And then we review them to see if they fit the statutory element. And, as with all statutes, we enforce the law. So I would continue to enforce the statutes that the legislature passes. And I think that’s appropriate because the three branches to the government… and, you know, my opponent has said he will not charge things. And to me that puts him above the legislative branch.
And I don’t think that’s where we want the county attorney to be. That’s not his role. And I take an oath, I took an oath when I entered this office. He’ll pull the statutes of the state of Nebraska. And, to me, not doing that is in violation of that oath.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Then the topic of marijuana is currently on a similar path right now, except in the opposite sense that we are looking at finally legalizing it.
Can you describe what your office’s current standards for prosecuting possession cases for marijuana, or even for other drugs, is, and if marijuana were to be legalized, what those changes would look like?
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: So, and it’s, without getting really down into the weeds, it’s a little bit tough if you’re not in this, you know, if you don’t understand or don’t know a lot about the statutes.
But in the state of Nebraska, as it is now, possession of marijuana is only a felony if you have more than a pound of marijuana. So, when I hear my opponent saying I’m charging low-level amounts of marijuana as a felony, that’s not true. I can’t. I can’t charge him as a felony. It has to be more than a pound for me to charge marijuana. So that’s just simply not true.
He mentions a case, in one of his ads, where he said I charge a minor amount of marijuana as a felony. That’s not true. We charge THC, which is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana which has its own definition in statute, which is illegal to possess. So we charge THC, in that case, and that’s what we charge. And THC is much like the other drugs such as cocaine, meth or cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine. So small amounts of THC could be looked at as a felony. So that’s what we charge. And, again, the legislature… that was in 2018. And when the judge… the case actually went to trial, there was a conviction and then the judge reversed her ruling and sent it back. And we had asked the legislature to fix the problem and nothing happened with it. So the issue is still out there.
Can THC be charged separately as its own controlled substance? And I think what we’re seeing is with all the vape cartridges that we’re now seeing, you know, we have individuals that are pulled off with several thousand vape cartridges with THC. We don’t charge ’em because of that ruling. We don’t charge any marijuana under a pound in our office because well, mainly because when the bill was passed it made it impossible for me to prosecute the case and prove the beyond a reasonable doubt because the hemp bill puts in there a requirement that the THC level be over 0.3%.
And, at the time – I think it’s changed here recently – but up until recently, there wasn’t a lab in the state of Nebraska that could quantify THC. So I didn’t have anybody that could come in and say, “This is over 0.3% THC.” So without that, I did not think I could prosecute that. I couldn’t. So I’m not gonna charge it. And I haven’t charged any marijuana cases under the pound since the hemp bill was passed, if it’s over a pound or if it deals with distribution, we can send it off to a lab. And we have sent ’em off to labs in New Mexico, or excuse me, Pennsylvania. And to get, because they will quantify the THC for us in that lab.
So, that’s just what I’ve been doing since the hemp bill was passed. I think that was 2019. So we haven’t been charging any minor or any possession of marijuana under a pound. And that’s just because we don’t believe we can prove it.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. Thank you for that clarification.
And then I’m actually out of questions for the afternoon. I told you this would be relatively quick and painless. But are there any last comments that you would like to state for our listeners?
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Well actually, we gotta make sure [that] November 8 we get out and vote. Yeah, that’s probably, you know, the most important thing that we tell people, is you gotta get out and vote.
If they have questions, they can go to my website www.condonforcountyattorney.com. It’s a… there’s a link there to our Facebook page and Twitter, so they can look at that also. And I guess I, you know, the thing I would say is do your due diligence with, not just with me, but with all the candidates and look into what they’re saying. See what they, see what they’re saying. I mean, like I said, it’s easy to say, “I want change,” or “I’m gonna instigate another diversion program.” Well, what is that and how is that different than the ones that we’re already doing? Or “I wanna do a problem-solving court.” Okay. Well, how are you, you know, what type of problem-solving court?
There are, like I said, there are things that I wanna do. There’s an adult court up in Omaha that I would like to look into getting a young adult court is what it’s called. Young adult court that is for 18 to 25-year-olds. And I would like to look at establishing a court like that here in Lincoln.
But again, that takes a process of getting through the Supreme Court. So look into what the candidates are saying and have an interview, if not in person, online, so you can look them up and see what they’ve said in the past and, and go from there.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: First and foremost, thank you for joining us.
I know you’re very busy. Most of our candidates have told me how crazy the next couple of weeks are for them, so it is, appreciate you taking the time to sit down with us.
Pat Condon, Republican Incumbent Candidate for the County Attorney Office: Absolutely. Well, I appreciate you doing this. I think it’s important for people to learn and this is a good way to do it.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And that was Pat Condon discussing his campaign for re-election as he finishes out his current term as the Lancaster County Attorney.
We have one more break cued up. After that, we will review those proposed initiatives that will be on the General Election ballot. Don’t change that dial and we can learn more about minimum wage, voter identification, and Nebraska’s commercial air service together.
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Amantha Dickman, News Director: Thank you for joining us back in the studio.
Before the break, we met with both candidates for the County Attorney’s office. Pat Condon, the current county attorney, discussed his ongoing work in the offices and how he would proceed if re-elected. His opponent, Adam Morfeld, outlined how his priority of public safety would influence his time in office if he were elected.
Now, these are the last candidate interviews we will have time for before the November 8 election. So, for the last part of this show, we are going to do a quick review of the proposed amendment and initiatives that are going to be on the ballot.
As mentioned, proposed amendment number 1 is at the top of that page. This amendment will authorize any city, county, or other political subdivision owning or operating an airport to expend its revenues for the public purpose of developing or encouraging the development of new or expanded regularly scheduled commercial passenger air service at such airport. Of course, a vote ‘for’ the amendment will authorize the use of revenue for such a purpose. A vote ‘against’ will not authorize it.
This amendment was introduced by Senator Eliot Bostar of legislative district 29 and is supported by Representative Mike Flood and Senator Lou Ann Linehan of legislative district 39. Together they form the Grow Nebraska Committee which represents the bipartisan effort to pass Amendment 1.
Here is Senator Bostar speaking at the Grow Nebraska Press Tour, to tell us more about the amendment.
Eliot Bostar, Senator of Legislative District 29: Good morning and thank you all for coming.
So, I’m gonna speak briefly about why we’re here today and why there is a[n] amendment currently on the ballots for voters to consider. Actually, right now, while early voting’s happening.
So a little over a year ago I was approached by officials from the Lincoln Airport and then members of airport authorities and governing bodies of airports from across the state who told me about a challenge currently facing Nebraska. And that is that right now Nebraska, as it competes to attract commercial air service, is doing so at a competitive disadvantage. We do not have access to the same tools that states across the country currently are utilizing to grow the network and the access of flights and routes that commercial air service is currently providing to them.
And that stems from a constitutional provision that we have that has been interpreted through an [Attorney General] AG opinion, in 2020, to say that we are unable to utilize these types of public/private partnerships to incentivize and work with and negotiate with airlines to attract their service and bring them into Nebraska.
And that’s particularly troubling right now.
Coming out of the pandemic, we have a significant pilot shortage facing the United States. And that is putting a great deal of strain on airlines to be very, very selective about where they’re investing, about where they’re committing to serve, and whether or not they’re growing in a community or they’re leaving a community.
And right now, as we’ve all seen, we’ve been losing air service across the state. And, so, with the constraints on the airline industry, combined with our limitation on the tools and resources we have available to us to compete with our neighbors, to attract that air service, we’re seeing the consequences of this. And, so, I introduced a resolution to place Amendment One on the ballot this year. And I’m very pleased that it was supported and passed unanimously by the legislature.
And, you know, for those that follow Nebraska politics, things don’t pass unanimously very often. So, I’m very thankful to my colleagues for their support for this issue and in their recognition that this is critically important for our state. And we need to make sure that we have the tools to compete. We need to level the playing field for Nebraska and make sure that we’re doing everything we can to grow our state, attract the investments in our economy, and make sure that Nebraska’s a place that people wanna move to and people wanna live.
The Nebraska legislature can only put things on the ballot. We can’t change the state constitution on our own. So, we are here, we’ve been traveling the state for the last couple of days and talking to folks in the communities about why this is important, what this means, and why it should be supported. Because, at the end of the day, we need the public at large… We need Nebraska voters to support this, to vote for amendment one. Otherwise, this change won’t happen.
So, the legislature’s been able to take it this far and now we’re counting on our neighbors and our communities and our friends and our families to make sure that this can get across the finish line and we can make Nebraska strategically competitive and help grow our state.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: That was Senator Bostar telling us more about Amendment 1, which seeks to grow Nebraska’s commercial air service, grow state economy, and connect Nebraska to the rest of the country. The Legislature unanimously passed this measure during the 2022 session. Now it is up for vote on the November 8 ballot.
Then there are also two initiatives on the ballot; initiative measure 432 and initiative measure 433.
Initiative measure 432 proposes that the Nebraska constitution be amended to require that, before casting a ballot in any election, a qualified voter must present valid photographic identification in a manner specified by the Legislature. A vote ‘for’ will amend the constitution to institute the requirement. A vote ‘against’ means the constitution will not be amended.
Initiative measure 433 states that the Nebraska statute establishing a minimum wage for employees be amended to increase the state minimum wage from 9.00 per hour to 10.50 per hour on January 1, 2023, with gradual annual increases until it the minimum wage reaches $15.00 per hour on January 1, 2026, which is then to be adjusted annually thereafter to account for increases in [the] cost of living. A vote against means the Nebraska statute will not be amended to raise the minimum wage. A vote for raises the minimum wage in the manner described on the ballot.
We are lucky enough to have spoken with both the proponents and opponents of initiative 433 after the public hearing held by the Secretary of State.
The Lincoln Independent Business Association – a group of small business owners here in Lincoln – are primary opposition to the initiative. Speaking on their behalf is their Policy and Research Coordinator, Katie Bohlmeyer.
Katie Bohlmeyer, Policy and Research Coordinator for Lincoln Independent Business Association: We put it out to our members and asked what opinions they had about this issue, whether they wanted to take a stance and what that stance would look like. And so we sent out a survey to our membership and 75% of that membership wanted us to come out on a strong stance against this initiative.
I put out some feelers with some of our members to garnish what kind of issues that they had with this, what this would look like for their businesses and for the other business owners that they know. And their feedback is what I based my testimony off of, which is ultimately the initiative 433 is bad for small businesses. It takes that power away from the market.
Ultimately, the market makes that decision of setting those minimum wages and it’s not a living, it’s never meant to be a living wage. The $9 is supposed to be set for a platform for teenagers and first-time employees that don’t have those skills, that they can argue for a higher wage and use that to build that skill set off of and go from there.
I’m from a small town in Nebraska too. I went back to my hometown and I was able to understand kind of where they’re setting their wages at right now and what they believe this wage force would do for them. And they all have come back and they said they are starting their lowest-paid employees way above even the proposed wage of $15 an hour. And they are struggling to find workers. And on top of all of the workforce issues, they’re also majorly suffering from inflation.
We had a business owner at Omaha who does burritos. He had to already set his burritos from $9 to $13 just for inflation. He has a 10-employee-run business. Setting those up… He just can’t afford to pay his business, his employees $15 an hour, and forcing that on him is an extra $134,000 in payroll taxes.
That’s just not something a small business owner with 10 employees can afford to do. And, unfortunately, that’s the issue that we’re seeing is these small businesses are already struggling to compete with these large franchises. But ultimately that’s who’s pushing initiatives like this because they can afford to wait out their competition and create a monopoly. And then they can do whatever they want and they put those market prices right back on customers. And these small businesses can’t afford to be charging $20 for a burrito, which is what this business owner is expecting his burritos are gonna have to go for.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Meanwhile, proponents of Initiative 433 consider other potential results should the initiative pass. Dave Titterington, the owner of the Wild Bird Habitat stores in Lincoln and Omaha, shared his thoughts with us.
Dave Titterington, Owner of Wild Bird Habitat: I don’t look at our employees as an expense. I look at our employees as an investment for our business. That’s right. And you know, the reason they’re working is for a paycheck. And so we wanna make sure that they get a paycheck that that’s beneficial to them because as employees, they’re an extreme asset for us.
When people walk through the door, they don’t see Dave Tittering as who they see. Their first contact is employees and we’ve got hundreds of five-star reviews. Our customers just really talk highly of our business, and that’s all because of the contact they have with our employees. And that’s why our employees are just as much of an investment as advertising is, as merchandising is.
And we get good employees. We wanna make sure we pay ’em good and seems to work for me. It doesn’t hurt our business any. We pay anywhere from $12 to $14 right now. You know, you can’t run your business… most small businesses can’t run their business without employees. And if they get good employees to help run their business… here’s what we just, we just spent five days in Utah. We turned the stores over to our employees for five days. They did an excellent job. There was no interruption in business or anything. And that’s what a lot of small business owners need to understand, that if they’ve got employees and they can’t be on-site all the time, greeting every cut customer that comes to the door… If they’ve got good employees, they need to reward those employees with a decent wage.
And it’s beneficial. Like I say, the customers that come in are 100% satisfied and they actually help attract more people into our business.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: We are fast approaching the end of the hour, so here are your reminders for today:
The KZUM newsroom is always open to hearing about any questions, concerns, suggestions, or even any story ideas that you want to share with us. All you have to do is give us a call at (402) 474 – 5086, extension line six. If you give us a call and we aren’t available, don’t forget to leave a voicemail. Or, if you aren’t much of a phone person, you can also find our social media handles and more newsroom information at kzum.org under that ‘About’ tab.
Speaking of our website, if you happen to miss a show, you can always head to the “KZUM News” tab where we archive all of our shows and include a transcript with links to that day’s content.
And, lastly, I just want to give a shout-out to Jack Rodenburg of the Rodenburg music experience. He put together all of the amazing original music that our news program uses. So, once again, thank you, Jack.
That wraps up our reminders for now. As you head out into the world, I hope you have a lovely day. Thank you for listening and we hope you’ll join us next time.
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