Accommodations for Pregnant/Parenting students advance; preemption of local gun laws debated

Sen. Mike Hilgers discusses preempting local gun laws (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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April 4, 2017 - 4:51pm

A proposal aimed at making it easier for students who are pregnant or are new parents to stay in school is moving ahead in the Nebraska Legislature. And senators opened debate on a proposal to abolish most local gun restrictions.

Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha is the sponsor of the proposal directed at helping pregnant or parenting students. Part of it would require schools to provide appropriate, private places for mothers to breastfeed or pump breast milk. Another part of it would require the State Board of Education to adopt a model policy to be followed and adapted by local school districts. The policy would have to include allowances for absences due to pregnancy, allowing coursework to be accessed at home or with tutoring, and providing information on childcare.

Vargas said it’s important for young mothers to stay in school. “Without supportive policies in all of our schools, the possibility that they will drop out of school increases dramatically, which results in a decrease in earning potential and a greater likelihood that they will live in poverty,” Vargas said.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, chairman of the Education Committee, said he supported the accommodation for breastfeeding, but not the other policy requirements. “It is a mandate. Pure and simple it is a mandate. It is not a recommendation. Schools, local governments tell us we send them too many unfunded mandates,” Groene said.

Senators voted 29-3 to give the bill first-round approval.  Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk said he thinks the Legislature should not be telling the State Board of Education what to do, and promised to offer an amendment at the next stage of debate removing the mandate to come up with a model policy.

Tuesday afternoon, senators began debating a proposal by Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln that would do away with most local ordinances restricting guns. Hilgers said local gun ordinances form a patchwork of laws that can result in people unknowingly breaking the law. He gave the example of someone transporting guns between two places that do not restrict them, but passing through Omaha, which requires them to be registered.

Hilgers rejected the idea that guns should be subject to local control. “If we have someone in Omaha who wants to shut down a mosque because of concerns we would say ‘No, you can’t do that. You might say local control, but you can’t do that – that’s a fundamental right.’ If a city or county wanted to save money and said ‘You know what, we don’t really need to give people the right to an attorney. It’s too expensive. We should have local control over that.’ We would say ‘No.’ These are fundamental rights. The right to own or have a firearm ought to be treated no differently,” Hilgers said.

But Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers ridiculed supporters of the bill who for their arguments against local control. “You think these people can say ‘I came from a small town and we can drive 35 miles an hour anywhere in town then you’re going to give me a ticket because I was driving 35 miles (in) downtown Omaha. You should have one law in every city. I shouldn’t have to know what the laws are in the city that I go to.’ That’s the silliness of this kind of legislation,” Chambers said.

The legislation would preempt most local gun restrictions, but it would allow Omaha to keep its ordinance prohibiting carrying guns in public places. However, it would eliminate other restrictions, such as Lincoln’s ban on guns in  domestic violence shelters. The Legislature adjourned for the day without reaching a first round vote on the bill.



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