In 1985, a woman was brutally raped and murdered in Beatrice. After a seriously flawed investigation, six people were convicted of the murder and spent the next twenty years in prison. They all insisted they were innocent.

A few years later, a different man named Bruce A. Smith died in 1992 in the custody of the state of Oklahoma. Information about his activities on the night of the Beatrice murder drew fresh attention to the case. Analysis of DNA evidence found at the scene revealed he was the real killer, not the six previously convicted.

The “Beatrice 6” won their court appeals and were released from prison. They successfully sued Gage County in federal court for their wrongful conviction and imprisonment. After many appeals by Gage County, a final judgment has been handed down in the amount of about $30 million.

LB 472 was introduced by Sen. Myron Dorn of District 30, which includes Gage and part of Lancaster County. The bill provides a way to pay the $30 million civil judgment against Gage County by giving the County Board additional authority to increase their county sales tax. Revenue from this higher tax could only be used to pay a major federal civil judgment, and when that debt is settled, the tax automatically stops. This new law will sunset altogether at the beginning of 2027. I voted for LB 472, and I voted to override the governor’s veto of this bill.

I hate taxes as much as the next person, and there are almost no circumstances where I would vote in favor of raising one without lowering another. Here is the reason I voted for LB 472: it prevents more harm being done to property tax owners. The only other way the county could pay this debt is to raise the county levy to the max (50 cents).

Over 90% of the property in Gage County is agricultural land. Without a sales tax devoted to paying off this debt that everyone in Gage County will pay, a handful of landowners will end up liable for maxed-out property taxes to pay this $30 million civil judgment.

They had absolutely nothing to do with this miscarriage of justice. It is wrong for them to have to bear the burden alone.

 

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at tbrewer@leg.ne.gov, mail a letter to Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1423, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or call us at (402) 471-2628.

Sen. Tom Brewer represents District 43 — most of the Sandhills — in the state legislature.