For students who find public schools don’t fit them, for whatever reason, LB670 gives their families an opportunity to attend a non-public school.
That was state Sen. Steve Halloran’s argument for his support of the bill during a meeting of the Hastings League of Women Voters Friday at the YWCA of Adams County. His support for LB670 was met with some criticism.
LB670 was one of several bills pending before the Nebraska Legislature, covering everything from redistricting to funding for family planning programs, Halloran discussed during the meeting Friday, which was promoted as a dialogue between Halloran and the public. With each bill discussed, Halloran talked for about five minutes on the issue and then fielded questions for about five minutes.
LB670 would adopt the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which is a state income tax credit for qualifying taxpayers. The bill would establish a $10 million scholarship fund and would allow any taxpaying entity to donate to an authorized scholarship-granting entity.
That entity would receive applications from families for students to go to a non-public school.
“There’s all kinds of information out there that claims it’s going to be the end of the world for public schools,” Halloran said.
Such a scholarship fund is common in many other states, he said.
“Where that takes place, the students that are offered these scholarships to go to a non-public school have a dramatic increase in their ACT scores,” he said.
He said in communities where these scholarships are available, public-school ACT scores increase, as well.
“If your concern is for the students and not just the institution, to me this is kind of a no-brainer,” he said.
The student who receives the scholarship would have to be new to the non-public school in question.
“Our goal should be that students have the optimal opportunity for education wherever that may be and they should have an optimal opportunity to go to college and get the kind of education that helps them get a good-paying job,” he said.
Halloran said the legislative fiscal office doesn’t anticipate any significant reduction in general fund expenditures related to state aid to schools.
League of Women Voters member Elayne Landwehr said parents who testified during a hearing Thursday in favor of LB670 said public schools and classes were too big and the students didn’t get enough attention.
“I’m a retired public school teacher and I substitute, and I would love to have a class of 15 to 25 students instead of 20 to 32,” she told Halloran. “Give me that $10 million, and we can make our classes smaller.”
Halloran said public schools already receive $1.2 billion in state aid and $3 billion in property taxes.
“So I don’t want to hear too much whining about public schools not being adequately funded,” he said. “As I said, the legislative fiscal office said this would not impact support.”
He brought up the slogan of the public school teachers’ union, the Nebraska State Education Association: “We love public schools.”
“If I had been their marketing person I would’ve said ‘we love students’ because that should be our focus, not the institution of public schools,” he said.
Halloran also spoke about his own bill, LB693, aimed at stopping spoofing, which is when telemarketers hack local phone numbers.
Similar legislative bills are creating momentum in states across the country, he said.
The risk is present for fraud and for the elderly to be taken advantage of, Halloran said. Plus, it’s annoying.
“It’s disruptive to your life and my life to get these calls and then it’s a telemarketer wanting to sell you extended car insurance on your 10-year-old car or whatever the case might be.”
LB253 and LB466
Halloran spoke about LB253 and LB466, two bills dealing with redistricting.
“Clearly, the map is going to change with the census, but there will still be 49 senators,” he said. “Right now each senator represents 35,000 people, roughly. Depending on the census, that number will change and consequently so will the map. It may gravitate more toward urban areas, and rural areas will suffer representation in that process.”
He said any process dealing with redistricting needs to be fair and equitable.
Halloran said with bills of this magnitude he would prefer to have a full floor debate.
“Frankly, I’m going to look out more for the welfare of rural Nebraska, quite honestly, because I think we’re going to end up with less representation overall in that process,” he said.
LB311 deals with paid family medical leave and would adopt the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act. The act will create a paid family and medical leave insurance program to provide partial wage replacement for eligible workers to care for themselves or a family member following a serious illness or to care for a new child through birth, foster care or adoption. Leave also can be taken for military service.
Similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, a covered employee who uses the paid family leave insurance program is entitled to be restored to the position held by the employee when the leave commenced or to a position with equivalent status and pay.
Halloran said paid family medical leave is similar to workers’ compensation.
“We have this propensity to build on programs that go above and beyond the nature of what they are originally designed for,” he said. “Workman’s comp was clearly designed for caring for people dealing with injuries or death in the workplace and covering those expenses for those individuals.”
Paid family medical leave builds onto the same system, he said.
He and his wife cared for his mother for nine years.
“It’s not like we can’t relate at some level to the hardship that takes place, but we were able to do it because we were close to retirement and that makes a difference, but every family’s situation was different,” he said.
When an employee uses paid family medical leave, that puts stress on that employee’s co-workers and the rest of the business, he said.
Halloran said he believes LB311 will pass out of committee for full debate of the Legislature.
It’s not easy for most employers to fill a position if an employee is out of work for an extended time, he said.
“We’re going to grow Nebraska, and I’m not saying this is a bad policy,” he said. “It’s a good policy, but I don’t want it to be a policy everybody takes advantage of just because it’s there.”
The bill disqualifies covered individuals from receiving benefits for one year if the commissioner determines the recipient made a willful false statement regarding the care or the material involved in the care of another person.
If benefits are equal to or more generous than what is required in the bill then the business could opt out of the fund.
LB629, which deals with Title X funds for family planning programs, states the Department of Health and Human Services will only grant funds for population research and voluntary family planning programs, to medical clinics with practitioners who are licensed to do gynecological examinations and are able to diagnose and treat sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
“We can’t afford to lose Title X funding from the federal government because it would affect our budget,” Halloran said.
LB83 would restore voting rights to ex-felons upon completion of their sentence as opposed to the current two-year waiting period.
During the dialogue it was stated by an audience member that for ex-felons, who are eager to engage in the political process by voting, the two-year waiting period is almost like a second sentence.
“In my estimation, I think it’s OK for them to prove themselves for two years,” he said.