Legislature Debates Early Childhood Education; Convention of States Proposal Heard

Feb. 1, 2019, 4:55 p.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Nebraska cities would have to make plans for early childhood education under a bill being debated in the Legislature. Supporters say it would be good for kids and businesses; opponents say it’s an unnecessary expense.

The proposal by Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln would require every community in the state over 800 people to include early childhood education, for children under 6, in their comprehensive plans.

Hansen linked the idea to improving the economy. “The childcare industry has had an undeniable effect on parents’ participation in the labor force and a significant impact on the economy of local communities. However, childcare is not just work support for parents, but also critical to the healthy development of children to make sure they start school ready to learn,” he said.

“Access to high quality childcare ultimately leads to a more skilled workforce. Families and employers depend on childcare stability for today’s workforce and to lay the foundation for tomorrow’s workforce,” Hansen continued.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson suggested the proposal was unnecessary. “In the end, I think private enterprise and all those other things will take care of the day care facilities and everything else…If a city wants to do this, let ‘em do it. I don’t think there’s any regulation stopping them. But I don’t see why we should require them, Friesen said.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn suggested the proposal heads in the wrong direction. “I’m not comfortable, when we are struggling here to figure out how to reduce property taxes, and then we have concerns raised by all those that use property taxes to pay the bill that the last thing they want is any more mandates, that we’re sitting here starting out the session with a new mandate,” Linehan said.

However, Hansen said the proposal makes practical sense. “In a city like Lincoln that’s growing by leaps and bounds, this is ‘Hey, when we build a new subdivision, when we build a new middle school, where is going to be the early childhood center for that neighborhood, because we know there will be one. Where’s it going to be? Is it going to be near the middle school? Is it going to be accessible via bike? Can we make sure it’s on the snowplow route?’” Hansen said. “These are the fundamental issues that I just want to have in front of the city and the city planner.”

Lawmakers adjourned for the day before reaching a first-round vote on the proposal. It’s expected to come up again next week.

Friday afternoon, advocates and opponents discussed participating in a convention of the states to propose amendments to the federal constitution. At a hearing of the Government, Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings said the so-called Article V convention, named after the section of the Constitution that authorizes it, would consider only proposals to limit federal power, impose fiscal restraints and limit the terms of federal officials.

Twelve other states have approved a convention, but it requires 34 states to be authorized. Critics worry that once called, the convention could consider other subjects. Tony Baker, an aide to Sen. Tom Brewer testifying for himself, discounted that scenario. And Baker said 38 states would have to ratify whatever amendments were proposed. “

If you’re a conservative, imagine some far left amendment you would really object to. If you’re a liberal, imagine some far right amendment you would really object to. Now, pretend laying in front of you on this table is a map of the United States. Thirty of those states are presently red – both houses are controlled by Republicans. Nineteen are presently blue – both houses are controlled by Democrats. One is purple – that’s Minnesota – it’s split. Now show me the path to 38 states,” Baker said.

Among those opposing the proposal was Matthew Parker of Omaha. “I do not believe that America now is at a worse point than at any previous time in our history. And at no previous time in our history – no matter how bad, no matter divided, no matter how burdened with civil unrest, America has never called an Article V convention,” Parker said. “If we are not worse than they were, if we are not more burdened or more desperate as a country than they were, we should not take steps that they did not consider, or that they considered too extreme.”

The committee took no immediate action on the proposal.