School, Prison Costs, Malcolm X Holiday Subject of Bills

Jan. 13, 2021, 3:36 p.m. ·

State senators chat as they await bill introductions (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Sen. Lynne Walz, chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, submitted what may be the first of several proposals dealing with how schools are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, a bill she introduced Wednesday tweaks the school aid formula known as TEEOSA – the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act – to deal with reimbursing schools that provide early childhood education.

“The early childhood allowances for the pandemic allows pre-K kids to be counted even if they went virtually. It also allows tweaks to be made to TEEOSA so we are not penalizing schools. We’re able to keep them whole. And we’re not penalizing them for the work they needed to do during that pandemic,” Walz said.

Walz gave another example of a needed tweak, to recognize school spending on transportation staff.

“Bus drivers, for example, or van drivers. They weren’t bringing kids back and forth to school. But they used in a different way to provide the nutrition – the lunches – at a drop-off, or at different locations in our community,” she said.

Walz, who narrowly defeated former Education Committee Chair Mike Groene for the position, said she hopes to create a more collaborative process to bridge the gap between different educational interests, like big schools and small schools, that have often competed for education funding.

“We’re always going to have that big school – small school (contrast). They’re different. They’re not going to be the same. But the common goal is to make sure that we’re educating our kids, and that we’re providing a quality education. And if we can get everybody on that page, maybe having top five or top three priorities allows us to be more intentional and focus better and be more intentional on policies, on legislation,” she said.

On another subject, Sen. Mike Flood introduced legislation that would require judges to announce the cost of incarceration when they sentence someone to prison. Flood compared that to the process the Legislature uses, with fiscal notes to indicate the cost of legislative proposals.

“I think that transparency in the process, in open court, allows taxpayers, court personnel, prosecutors, to understand what the real life cost is to the sentences that are imposed,” Flood said.

Flood said he’s not critical of judges, and prisons are full of people who deserve to be there. But he said spelling out the costs might have an impact.

“There are counties in this state that have diversion programs, and then there are counties in the state that don’t. And if we are sending someone to prison on a fourth or fifth DUI in a rural county and the cost is going to be $65,000, and in Sarpy County there’s a diversion court that focusses on keeping the offender in the community, at his or her job, and remaining accountable at a cost that’s a fraction of that, I think that’s important to know,” he said.

Flood also talked about a rules change he’s proposed to punish senators if they’re found by a 2/3 vote to have engaged in disorderly conduct, including personally disparaging another senator, using inappropriate language, or disrespecting the Legislature in their treatment of another senator. Flood originally proposed banning someone who violates the rule by prohibiting them from speaking for 30 days. He now says he thinks that’s too harsh. But he says the idea still has value.

“I think more than anything it’s a deterrent. We can control what comes out of our mouth. We should control what comes out of our mouth. And my sense is that we’ll never use it,” he said.

If the Rules Committee recommends it, the full Legislature will consider the proposal next Thursday.

Also Wednesday, Sen. Terrell McKinney introduced a bill proposing to make the birthday of Malcolm X, who was born in Omaha on May 19, 1925, a state holiday.

“I think it’s time that we recognize the legacy of Malcolm X He’s one of our native sons and probably one of the most globally recognized leaders of the Black community in America, and he’s from Nebraska. I think we should do all that we can to honor his legacy,” McKinney said.

Malcolm’s family moved from Omaha the year after he was born, amid White reaction to his father’s civil rights activities. He later participated in a series of burglaries and was sentenced to prison, where he became a Muslim and later emerged as a leader for the Nation of Islam, before being assassinated in 1965. McKinney said his legacy is important.

“When I look at him and I look at his story, it’s a story of persevering and overcoming a lot of challenges. And that speaks to a lot of individuals in my community and for myself,” he said.

Wednesday was the fifth day of bill introductions, which continue through next Wednesday.