- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska groups that accept refugees from war-torn countries no longer have to worry about a bill that would have held them liable if one of the new arrivals commits a crime.

Papillion Sen. Bill Kintner said Friday that he will stop pursuing a measure that would have required the agencies to carry insurance to compensate state or local governments that prosecute refugees from “high-risk” territories, including Syria and Iraq.

Kintner says the measure would have ensured a rigorous screening of refugees. But after speaking with Nebraska’s resettlement groups, he says he no longer believes the state is in immediate danger. Kintner said he learned it takes much longer for a refugee to make it to the United States than he originally thought.

“I feel far better about this process after meeting with those groups, hearing how they do it, hearing the entire process, than when we started this whole thing,” he said.

The measure would have required resettlement groups to demonstrate that they have the capacity to cover up to $25 million in damages and would allow crime victims to sue the groups.

Charles Shane Ellison, legal director for immigration service provider Justice for our Neighbors, said that kind of insurance policy would cost close to $25,000 a year if it could even be obtained. Non-compliant agencies could be fined up to $1,000 per day, per refugee served by that agency over the previous five years, which would add up to more than $1 million a day for agencies like the Refugee Empowerment Center in Omaha.

The only other choice would be to refuse specific refugees from the 34 countries in the bill. Ellison said national origin discrimination is prohibited in federal law, and executive orders to do in other states such as Indiana and Georgia are being challenged by attorney generals and the ACLU.

“It is difficult to view this bill as anything other than a scheme designed to bankrupt refugee resettlement agencies in Nebraska who refuse to discriminate based upon national origin,” Ellison said.

But the bill’s advocates say the U.S. government does not have the resources to properly vet individuals from war-torn regions. Representatives from fiscally conservative and faith-based nonprofits called for resettlement agencies to take financial responsibility for refugees, including legal costs of prosecuting potential acts of terror.

“Nebraska taxpayers should not have such a fiscal yolk around their necks,” said of Doug Kagan, president of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom.

Kintner introduced the measure last month amid a heated debate over whether states should accept refugees from war-torn Syria. The list of countries was adopted from a border security bill that Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul introduced in Congress last year. Kintner said he would not hesitate to bring back the legislation if circumstances or federal policy change in the future.

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The bill is LB966.


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