Sex-Ed, Mega-Sites Among Targets of Legislation

Jan. 6, 2022, 5:30 p.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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William Padmore of Nebraska Public Media News interviewed reporter Fred Knapp about developments in the Legislature. Here's the transcript:

Padmore: Senators started the 2022 session this week and I know there have already been proposals to tighten regulations on abortion and loosen them on concealed weapons. What else is in the hopper?

Knapp: Senator Joni Albrecjt is proposing to prohibit the Department of Education and the state school board from developing standards on health education. You'll remember there was controversy earlier this year over sex education standards on things like potential differences between biological sex and gender identity, as well as information on various sexual practices. Then after the controversy, the standards were put on hold. But Albrecht wants to prevent them from coming back.

“Anything of that magnitude should have come to the floor of the Legislature. They are not overseen by the governor. They're overseen by us. So it's fallen into our laps because of what's been happening at the state Board of Education meetings, when the parents are not going to leave until they feel secure that these kinds of things are not going to happen in Nebraska to their children,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht said her legislation is consistent with the state constitution. That constitution says “The State Department of Education shall have general supervision and administration of the school system of the state and such other activities as the Legislature may direct.” She argues that the Legislature should direct them not to develop these health education standards, and that should be a matter of local control.

Padmore: Okay, sex education still an issue -- what else is going on?

Knapp: As you know, there's a billion dollars of federal ARPA funding coming -- American Rescue Plam Act money. Yesterday, we heard a proposal for $400 million for North Omaha. Today the state Chamber of Commerce chimed in with a request for $450 million, including $150 million for something they call mega-site development. That's preparing a place for industry to come with ready water, road, rail and sewer installations.

The chamber says Nebraska was one of several states competing for Toyota battery plant making batteries for electric cars. That went to North Carolina last month, where there was already a site that was owned as opposed to hypothetical and having to be assembled. An article by the Associated Press said the plant was worth an investment of $1.3 billion and would create 1,750 jobs. But according to the chamber, ultimately, the project could be up to $3.5 billion in investment and 5,200 jobs. Senator John Arch said preparing a mega-site would be a way for Nebraska to be ready.

“We know the history, we know that we have missed out on some opportunities for some very large employers because we weren't ready. Other states were ready, they had already put the land together. It wasn't ‘Wait, wait. And we'll get back to you as soon as we figure out exactly where we can put this project together.’ So this would give us the advantage of being out ahead, so when the next opportunity comes around for the state of Nebraska, we would be ready to seize that opportunity,” Arch said.

The chamber's also asking about $100 million for a one time business grant program, loan funds for businesses and training, and various other activities.

Padmore: Well, that sounds like a lot of money, a lot of jobs, a lot of competition for those federal funds. So what's coming up next week?

Knapp: They're going to start floor debate on Monday with a proposal by Senator Steve Halloran for a convention of the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including a balanced budget amendment and congressional term limits. They're going to debate something that would reduce the inheritance tax. And they're going to debate tax-deductible scholarships to support kids who would be sent to private, parochial or charter schools.

Padmore: Well, we'll look forward to hearing about all of that next week and we'll look forward to you coming here to explain to us Thanks, Fred.

Knapp: Thank you.