Photo by Nebraska Unicameral
It will be a big week in the Legislature for Sen. Mike Groene, who has major bills about to hit the floor for debate.Groene’s significance in the Legislature is apparent, not only as chairman of the Education Committee, but also as a primary architect of property tax relief.
His prominence, if not his reputation as a political puncher, brings him to the forefront of attention. The Lincoln Journal Star newspaper ran an extensive feature article on Groene and his primary bill in their Sunday edition.
That primary bill is LB 640, a bill that another senator -- Curt Friesen -- picked as his priority.
The bill would limit property taxes and call for more state aid for schools.
Groene says the goal of LB 640 is to put equity back into the “Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act” (TEEOSA) -- the formula for state aid to education. He notes that the vast majority of Nebraska schools rely solely on property taxes for support.
Meanwhile, property owners have been hard hit with soaring taxes. Agriculture landowners have suffered a double whammy -- high taxes coupled with crop and livestock prices that are well below the costs of production.
LB 640 would limit the amount of money that schools could request from property taxes, putting more responsibility for funding on state aid, which comes from sales and income taxes. LB 640 replaces the property tax shortfall for schools from the existing property tax credit relief fund, which is spread around to all property taxpayers in the state, and is expected to have around $224 million this year.
That fund would be enough to replace the lost property tax revenue for schools through the next three years, with about $60 million left over, according to the Legislature's fiscal office.
Groene said it's an issue of fairness, of tax equity.
School officials are nervous about the prospect, saying that income and sales taxes are a less reliable source of funds than property taxes. Many urban senators see limited benefits too, noting that property taxes for urban homeowners will fall only slightly, if at all.
Also, a coalition of farm groups and education advocates said Sunday they cannot support LB 640 because it doesn't do enough.
However, fiscally conservative senators comprise a majority of the Legislature, and they generally criticize ever-increasing costs of education, and might withstand the pressure of educational lobbyists.
(More information about LB 640 was added to this report on Monday, following a question raised by a Bulletin reader on talkback. - Editor.)
Also, Groene's bill LB 409 is expected to reach the floor this week -- legislation for schools to receive state aid. The amount proposed is an increase of $20 million, which is well below the previously expected $67 million increase. The expected amount was reduced because the state is taking in less money than expected.
Also, Groene’s bill on classroom discipline will reach the floor at some point, because he made it his priority bill. LB 595 has been amended after prolonged conversations with all parties involved, Groene said.
It allows teachers to restrain or remove a student from the classroom with less fear of reprisal, if the student is disruptive and/or harming others.
The bill clarifies that the teacher or administrator is only protected from legal action or administrative discipline if their restraint is reasonable, but penalties still exist for those who abuse their authority, Groene said.
Teachers would also decide when the student returns to their classroom, unless the student is required to return pursuant to the Special Education Act or the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Students can also be returned after a conference between parents or legal guardians, the principal and teacher to address the student’s behavior.
Groene said LB 595 enforces learning in a classroom. Not only does it allow learning to happen, it allows teachers to teach students that there are behavior boundaries that all citizens should follow.
"It’s a common-sense approach," his legislative aide said. "We’re working with all parties to make this work for everyone involved."