When Nebraska’s constitution was ratified in 1875, it included a ban of slavery. But there was — and still is — an exception: slavery as punishment for a crime.
State Sen. Justin Wayne, of northeast Omaha, on Tuesday announced plans to change that with a proposed amendment to the state constitution.
“Our Constitution is not a symbolic document; it is the moral and legal foundation of our State and our laws,” Wayne said in a press release. “Removing this language from our Constitution shows that slavery is not a Nebraska value.”
The exception was used to arrest former slaves and force them into involuntary servitude, known as convict leasing, Wayne said.
“There’s 23 states that don’t have anything in their constitutions remotely close to us,” he said.
Wayne, who was elected in 2016, said he noticed this and other archaic language in the state constitution while researching for other bills.
“The first thing that stood out, obviously, was Section II,” he said.
Section II of Article I, Nebraska’s Bill of Rights, states: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than for punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
“I think we need to look at our constitution and clean up a lot of things,” Wayne said. “Some things are even declared unconstitutional that are still in there.”
Wayne said he expects no problem pushing the amendment through the Legislature; it then would need approval from voters.
Many senators have expressed surprise that the language is still in the constitution, he said.