Something stinks in the Judiciary Committee and it’s the Ebke/Clark controversy that nobody is talking about.
Before we jump into that, let’s quickly review the committee process. Every bill that is proposed in the unicameral is assigned to a committee, and nearly every bill receives a public hearing. There are 14 standing committees organized by policy areas. Where policy areas overlap, there may be debate in the legislature to ensure that bills go to the correct committee. Routing bills in this way fosters an environment where not every senator is required to study every single bill, only the bills that make it through the committee process, and creates policy specialists for each policy category. A good committee will stop poorly written or bad bills from reaching “general file”, the first round of debate. They will propose amendments to make the bill stronger and are the first to hear proponent, opponent, and neutral testimony from lobbyists, policy experts, and the public.
The Judiciary committee is charged with many subject areas, including most firearm legislation.
Back in mid-September, Senator Ebke hired a new attorney to serve as legal counsel to the judiciary committee. That attorney was Dick Clark, who was registered as a gun industry lobbyist during the hiring process and is a current board member of a local gun extremist group, a lifetime NRA member, and a member of American Suppressor Association. His law firm specializes in helping people create legal trusts in order to buy and sell machine guns, short shotguns, and silencers. He once testified at the legislature that he keeps an unsecured handgun in a home with children, which he supposedly used to confront an intruder before feeding him and sending him on his way. He didn’t mention calling authorities and we did not find a matching police report.
Not only has he testified on behalf of a gun extremist organization multiple times, but he’s also testified as a firearm law attorney for firearm preemption, LB68. This is a live bill that is expected to be debated on the floor of the legislature.
From the beginning of Ebke’s leadership as Judiciary chair starting in 2017, it was clear that she was willing to bend ethical boundaries to assist the gun lobby. She supported moving the firearm preemption bill LB68 to an inappropriate committee to ensure the bill would be well greased on its way to the floor (she also sponsored a nearly identical bill in the previous session). This caused a lot of controversy as the Judiciary committee is specifically responsible for processing legislation on possession and use of guns.
Why would the chair of a committee that hears nearly all gun bills proposed in the legislature hire a lawyer with a clear bias towards gun proliferation? Senator Ebke, who often shows even-handedness in other areas, has a weak spot for the gun lobby. She’s using Nebraska tax money to pay the salary of a man whose life’s work revolves around profiting on guns on a committee that has been charged with processing legislation on possession and use of guns. I asked her about this at a public meeting she held in Crete and she stated that he would not be working on any gun legislation because of the conflict of interest.
Does anyone really believe that a man who recently taught a class called “Engaging Elected Representatives” at a gun club will not take full advantage of his full time access to lawmakers? Does Senator Ebke really believe that he’s not going use his new position of access to advance his political goals?