Senators push ahead with governor’s school aid bill after rejection of amendments
LINCOLN. On Tuesday, state lawmakers approved Gov. Jim Pillan’s proposal for school aid in the first round after rejecting attempts to amend a key part of the “package.”
Legislative Bill 583 was passed by a vote of 39 to 3, but only after overcoming an eight-hour filibuster and rejecting amendments to regulate the distribution of public assistance and require universal free lunches in Nebraska schools.
In a 29-17 vote, lawmakers rejected an amendment by State Senator Tom Brandt of Plymouth that he said “remedied flaws” in the governor’s bill.
The amendment, drafted by a Milford school board member, would expand on the increase in state aid that Pillen called for by allocating slightly more aid to urban school districts and smoothing out large property tax differences between rural school districts.
For example, under the amendment, Brandt said, Millard Public Schools will receive an additional $17.2 million in public assistance, as opposed to an additional $13.7 million under the governor’s plan, and Elkhorn County will receive $10.9 million instead of 6. 4 million dollars. For Omaha Public Schools, the difference was $29.7 million versus $35.8 million.
Seward Senator Jana Hughes backed the amendment, saying it would solve the problem in her county where property taxes on farmland in the Century School District are half the level of fence land taxes in Seward County.
But supporters of the governor’s plan criticized the amendment, which was introduced as LB 320. They said the change to LB 583 would violate a “package” of proposals put together by the governor not only to increase state aid to K-12 schools, but also to cut income taxes and provide benefits for property tax.
“I appreciate that rural Nebraska likes this bill,” said Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, a top ally of Pillen’s plans. “But it’s a little overboard.
Albion Senator Tom Breeze, who served on a pre-sessional committee formed by Pillen to draft public aid/tax relief bills, wondered where the additional $100 million required under the Brandt Amendment would come from.
The amendment will be based on the use of unclaimed state property tax credits, which totaled $200 million as of September. But Breeze said that taxpayers will gradually realize they are missing out on tax breaks, and those funds will dry up.
“We have a package agreed here, and it’s time to respect that package,” said Breeze, who is sponsoring the governor’s property tax plan. “This is not the place to insert these ideas at this hour.”
While other senators agreed they didn’t have time to digest such a change on such a difficult issue, other senators, including Omaha Sen. Wendy DeBoer, said the first-round debate is when all 49 senators discuss the bill and propose changes.
But the supporters of the Pillen package, supported by many school groups, won out.
The senators also rejected an amendment by Omaha Senator Machala Kavanaugh that would have required all K-12 public school kids to get a free lunch every day.
Universal School Lunch
Such a “universal” school lunch has been adopted in three states and is in line with LB 99, which was proposed by Kavanaugh but was not rejected by the Committee on Education.
Kavanaugh and the amendment’s supporters said nutrition is critical to student success.
She noted that the Education Committee unanimously proposed a similar bill in 2021, and its supporters included Senator Dave Moorman of Glenville, the committee’s current chairman.
Senator Megan Hunt of Omaha said families can focus on other economic aspects of their lives, such as “being able to spend quality time with their families.”
Lawmakers voted against the bill along party lines, 30-16.
Linehan, however, indicated that the Legislature may have already addressed the problem of free lunches by introducing a bill by Fremont Sen. Lynn Walz that seeks to maximize federal funds available for free school meals for eligible schools in low-income areas.
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