LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill Wednesday ending mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers in Nebraska.
Heineman also signed into law a measure that reduces the taxing authority of the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
Legislative Bill 44, sponsored by Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, allows judges to sentence young killers to terms of from 40 years to life in prison. Under existing law, juveniles who commit first-degree murder must be sentenced to life without parole.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that judges must be given the latitude to consider a juvenile's diminished capacity to control impulsive behavior.
Laws that require life terms violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the high court said.
Some lawmakers wanted a minimum term of 50 or 60 years. They said an inmate sentenced to 40 years could become parole-eligible after 20 years with good time.
Under the new law, judges can still choose to sentence juvenile killers to life without parole. Nebraska currently has 27 inmates serving life for crimes committed when they were 17 or younger.
Lawmakers created the Learning Community four years ago to resolve boundary and funding disputes in the Omaha area, but it has remained controversial, especially in Sarpy County.
The entity can levy up to 3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for its own programs and capital projects, although it has never used all of that authority.
Legislative Bill 585, introduced by Sen. Jim Smith of Omaha, reduces the allowed property tax levy to 2 cents per $100 of valuation and allows 1˝ cents of that to be reserved for early childhood education, elementary learning centers and other programs.
Current law allows only 1 cent of the levy for programs, and the list of approved uses does not include early childhood education.
The remaining half-cent could be used for capital projects.
The bill also cuts student transportation costs in the Omaha area.
It eliminates free busing for students who use the Learning Community's open enrollment program to attend a different school within their home district, or to attend a district that does not share a boundary with their home district.
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