Senators split over restraining students

Sen. Mike Groene speaks in the Legislature Monday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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January 13, 2020 - 5:59pm

The Nebraska Legislature’s considering a proposal that says teachers could physically intervene with students who are threatening themselves or others. Critics say the proposal is unnecessary and discriminatory.


Sen. Mike Groene, chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, is proposing changes to the law on student discipline. Groene wants teachers and other school personnel to be able to use “reasonable physical intervention” to safely manage the behavior of a student. He says his purpose is straightforward.

“You need to let everybody know who's in charge in the classroom. That teacher, who by the way is the first responder in most crisises (sic) in the classroom,” Groene said.

But Sen. Justin Wayne, a former member of the Omaha school board, says some students are more likely than others to be punished.

“Minority students, particularly black and brown, are being suspended at higher rates…In February of 2015, the federal government and Nebraska Department of Education actually sanctioned Omaha Public Schools for suspending too many African American males with special needs,” Wayne said.

Groene, who represents North Platte and surrounding areas, says parents and teachers who talk to him about the need for such legislation aren’t singling anyone out.

“In all of the examples I heard from parents and teachers and concerned administrators, not once was sex, race, age ever brought into the conversation. Not once. It was children and children only, being protected, and the will of those individuals who work for us in public schools to step forward and to protect those children, and they wanted to be protected, also,” he said.

Wayne says it sounds good to talk about “reasonable” physical intervention, but the bill doesn’t say what happens if someone uses “unreasonable” force.

“We are passing a bill that says if there is reasonable force or unreasonable force, a parent or student has absolutely no recourse.  Is that the statement we want to send? Is that the culture, we want to create?” he asked.

Wayne says court decisions already protect school personnel who physically intervene. Groene says most teachers don’t know that, and he’s trying to clarify the law.

Senators didn’t vote on the proposal Monday. Groene says he’ll try to line up votes from two-thirds of the senators, which he’ll need to overcome a filibuster, and hopes to have a first-round vote in a couple of weeks.

Here are some brief video highlights from Monday's debate:

Also Monday, senators voted first-round approval of a proposal by Sen. Tom Brewer, introduced for Gov. Pete Ricketts, to exempt 50 percent of veterans’ pensions from the state income tax. Some critics question why military pensions should be singled out for special treatment. Brewer, a career Army veteran who was severely wounded in Afghanistan, offered his rationale.

“After 36 years I spent two years getting rebuilt at Madonna and so, you know, when you say ‘Why do we treat them different,’ you treat them different because they paid a more severe price than we asked from about  anyone,” Brewer said.

Brewer also said he wants to keep veterans who retire from Offutt Air Force in the state to contribute to the state’s economy.

Sen. Tom Brandt said the proposal would help only about 10 percent of the state’s veterans – those who stay in the military 20 years to qualify for a pension. He said it wouldn’t help the other 90 percent like his father, who served three years in Germany during the Cold War.

“This bill is being promoted as workforce development. We are told if we do not increase the benefits to our military retirees, they will move out of Nebraska. Maybe so. But what of the 90% of our veterans who receive no military retirement?” Brandt asked.

But Brandt voted for the proposal, which got first round approval by a vote of 46-0. It’s expected to cost the state about $12 to $14 million a year in lost revenue to start.

And Nebraskans would pay taxes on services, in exchange for a lower sales tax rate, under a proposal Sen. Tom Briese introduced. Briese’s bill would tax services ranging from home and car repairs to health, legal, and accounting services. It would also drop the state sales tax rate by a cent and a half, although Briese says the drop could be greater than that. He says the proposal amounts to needed structural reform.

“When sales taxes were first enacted, our economy was two-thirds goods-based. And that has flipped now, to the extent that our economy is now two-thirds services-based,” Briese said.

Briese said his proposal isn’t intended to raise any more money than the state currently takes in, and it’s not related to efforts to reduce property taxes. Sen. Lou Ann Linehan and five other members of the Revenue Committee introduced legislation to do that late Monday afternoon, and there will be a news conference about that Tuesday afternoon.

 

 

 

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