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Education

A flurry of activity

Given all the snow we’ve received, it seems timely to talk about the ‘flurry’ of legislative activity the Nebraska Catholic Conference experienced last week.
Because of COVID-19, the Unicameral has amended its legislative session processes. In opening months of session, Senators typically have half-day floor debate, and afternoon committee hearings. However, Senators currently have all-day committee hearings. The idea is to limit exposure between Senators for the time being.

This safety precaution has produced long days of committee hearings. Introduced legislation are receiving committee hearings in less than half the time it takes to complete the hearing process. Like Senators, the general public, and lobbyists, the Nebraska Catholic Conference is managing numerous bills every day.

This column will provide a sampling of bills we engaged the last week. My hope is to provide a broader understanding of our work. To learn about all our legislation, visit our Bill Tracker at www.necatholic.org.

Our education legislation advocacy was on full display. Associate Director of Education Policy Jeremy Ekeler actively testified on numerous bills. He supported LB389 introduced by Senator Rita Sanders (Bellevue) to ensure military spouses with valid teaching certificates in another state can teach in Nebraska. Like our public schools, Catholic schools struggle with teacher recruitment and retention. LB389 recognizes the sacrifices military families make for our country and makes sure military spouses can fulfill their vocation as educators.

Jeremy supported LB531 introduced by Senator Tom Briese to provide tax credits for donors who assist in funding early childhood education efforts. LB531 provides additional opportunities to invest in early childhood education, with the goal of making it more affordable and accessible to all families.

Jeremy also supported LB529 introduced by Education Chairwoman, Senator Lynne Walz, to reallocate state lottery funds for various education programs, including a fund providing limited student loan forgiveness for aspiring teachers and current teachers seeking to enhance their educational training.

Jeremy opposed LB327 which mandates personal finance classes for high school graduates. We all agree that high school graduates need a solid personal finance education (a goal Catholic schools already accomplish). The NCC opposed this legislation because mandates place unfunded financial burdens on non-public schools and can adversely impact our ability to provide an authentic Catholic education.

Jeremy also monitored the State Board of Education, which meets every first Thursday and Friday, and addresses education matters impacting public and non-public schools.

Our Associate Director of Pro-Life & Family Policy, Marion Miner, was also working for the common good. Marion testified in support of LB597 introduced by Sen. Joni Albrecht (Thurston) to provide a $2,000 refundable tax credit for parents who experience a stillbirth. While this legislation cannot heal the tragic loss of a child, the tax credit seeks to provide some financial and assistance and equity for parents. Stillbirth can often result in higher financial costs than a live birth. Unlike live birth, however, stillbirth does not qualify for the usual tax deductions and credits.

Marion testified neutral on LB251 to lower the age of consent for organ donation at the time of death from age 16 to age 14. While organ donation can be noble and charitable, such a gift must be given with full knowledge and free will. Marion raised concerns about a minor child’s knowledge and consent for such a serious decision, especially without the parental notification or consent.

I also testified on legislation. I supported LB138 introduced by Senator Tony Vargas (Omaha) that requires local law enforcement agencies to provide notice to their local governing body (e.g., city council) if they enter into a federal immigration law enforcement agreement. This notice requirement ensures local governing bodies (e.g., city council) can have a meeting to determine what is best to maintain public safety, as such an agreement could negatively impact public safety, especially of the immigrant community.

I also supported LB461 introduced by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks (Lincoln) which requires casinos to post human trafficking information posters. As casino gambling pops up in Nebraska, it will be critical to recognize casinos as major hotspots for human trafficking and provide awareness to combat this evil.
I provided support for LB318 introduced by Senator John Cavanaugh (Omaha) to increase the earned income tax credit which is an effective tool for combatting poverty by ensuring that Nebraska’s working poor receive more of their hard-earned income back in their tax returns.

I opposed legislation to limit the motor vehicle tax exemption for non-profits organizations. This legislation is intended to ensure that non-profits cannot abuse motor vehicle tax exemptions by avoiding taxes on luxury vehicles (a well-intentioned idea). However, this legislation has the unintended effect of taxing school buses, 10-passenger vehicles, and maintenance trucks, which imposes an unnecessary financial burden on churches and schools.

I also provided neutral testimony on LB447 which removes a religious exemption from Nebraska’s compulsory vaccination laws for child care centers (including preschools and school-based child care centers). While the introduced legislation gutted the religious exemption, an amendment offered at the committee hearing inserted a religious exemption. This exemption is sometimes used by parents who conscientiously object to ethically tainted vaccinations made or produced with aborted fetal tissue.

As the Unicameral continues to plow through this blizzard of legislative hearings, pray for us as we educate, engage, and empower our elected officials, the Catholic faithful, and the general public on policy matters—may we faithfully bear the light of Christ in the public square!

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