The 106th Nebraska Legislature officially began its second session on Jan. 8, introducing legislative bills that will have a direct impact on the University of Nebraska.
Each year, the NU president and chancellors from each campus meet to determine the system’s legislative priorities and create a single legislative agenda, according to director of communication Melissa Lee. This year, Lee said there are six priority bills, three of which will have a direct impact on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“We know our senators are working hard to address important issues for our state,” Lee said. “We appreciate everything they do to support affordable and high-quality education for our 51,000 students.”
As the Nebraska Unicameral continues to hold hearings and consider bills, The Daily Nebraskan made a list of the top 10 bills that will affect the system if approved by state senators.
Introduced by District 19 Sen. Jim Scheer, speaker of the Legislature, at the request of Gov. Pete Ricketts on Jan. 15, a Nebraska Career Scholarship would be created for students studying math, engineering, health care or computer information systems, according to the bill.
The Board of Regents would receive $2 million for fiscal year 2020-21 and be responsible for allocating funds between campuses, determining eligibility of students, receiving and processing applications for awards to individual students and dispersing the scholarship funds directly to students during the fiscal year.
The scholarship would be available to first-time freshmen or transfer students in the eligible programs of study, and funds may be used for tuition, fees, required tools and equipment and room and board. Students would also be required to register with their campus office to obtain a Nebraska-based internship, apprenticeship, clinical position or major-related field of employment prior to completing their program of study.
Every four years, the Board of Regents and the Department of Economic Development would evaluate programs of study needed to meet workforce needs. The board would also be required to electronically report statistics regarding the program to the Clerk of the Legislature and Ricketts by Dec. 1 of each year.
According to Lee, NU President Ted Carter will testify for the bill at an upcoming Appropriations Committee hearing. The bill is the NU system’s top priority bill for the legislative session.
Introduced by District 29 Sen. Kate Bolz on Jan. 16, the bill calls for $2.5 million to be appropriated from the General Fund to the Board of Regents for fiscal years 2020-21 and 2021-22. The funds would go to the University of Nebraska Daugherty Water for Food Institute, according to the bill.
The funds would be used to support water and agricultural research and existing collaborative initiatives to implement best practices in water conservation.
Chancellor Ronnie Green will testify on behalf of the bill on Feb. 12, according to Lee. LB1026 is another priority bill for the NU system.
Introduced by District 26 Sen. Matt Hansen on Jan. 22, the bill would create the Nebraska Workforce and Education Reporting System Act that would “enable the training of tomorrow’s workforce today,” according to the bill.
The data would provide workforce outcomes to postsecondary educational institutions in the state to encourage program improvement and tailor student recruitment efforts. Students would also be guided on what courses to take in high school and college to be successful in specific jobs. The data would also be reported to policymakers to inform decisions and resource allocations. According to Lee, this is one of the six priority bills.
A Business and Labor Committee hearing for the bill is scheduled on Feb. 10.
Introduced by District 8 Sen. Megan Hunt on Jan. 13, the bill would create the Nebraska Fair Pay to Play Act and allow student athletes to enter contracts to receive compensation for the use of their name, image or likeness rights or athletic reputation, according to the bill.
No postsecondary institution would be able to uphold any rule, requirement, standard or limitation preventing a student athlete from fully participating in an intercollegiate sport. The act would also ensure no institution could affect the duration, amount or eligibility for renewal of any previous athletic grant-in-aid or scholarship.
Student athletes would not be allowed to enter into contracts with sponsors that provide compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness rights or athletic reputation if the contract required display of the sponsor’s apparel or advertisements during official team activities or if compliance would conflict with an already existing team contract.
If approved, the bill would become operative on July 1, 2023, and no postsecondary institution would be able to enter into, modify or renew any contradictory contract.
A Business and Labor Committee hearing for the bill was held on Feb. 3.
Introduced by District 6 Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh on Jan. 22, 2019, the bill would require public postsecondary educational institutions to administer voluntary campus climate surveys to students and form a report regarding sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking, according to the bill.
The surveys, given every two years, would not include any personally identifiable information. Information related to training provided to Title IX coordinators, investigators and decision makers, and information on how students and employees may report immediate concerns would also be included.
The bill was advanced for enrollment and review to establish a final version on Jan. 31.
Introduced by District 46 Sen. Adam Morfeld on Jan. 11, 2019, the bill would grant protections to student journalists at the University of Nebraska, public state colleges and public community colleges, according to the bill.
Any school-sponsored media would be considered a public forum, and student journalists would be guaranteed the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press, regardless of whether the media is financially supported by the institution. Students would be responsible for determining news, opinion, feature, sports and advertising content.
Students would be required to follow standards such as those laid out in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and would not be allowed to make libelous or slanderous statements, make unwarranted invasions of privacy, violate federal or state laws or present material that incites a clear and present danger to or disruption of the institution.
The act also states no publication or expression from student journalists would be an expression of the institution’s policy or hold the institution responsible for their actions.
District 2 Sen. Robert Clements filed AM2229 on Jan. 31, which would remove similar protections from public high schools included in Section 2 of the bill. The amendment is currently pending.
Introduced by Sen. Morfeld on behalf of the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, the bill would lower the age of majority in Nebraska for healthcare decisions from 19 to 18 and allow people 18 years of age or older to make healthcare decisions without the consent of a parent or guardian, according to the bill.
Morfeld said the current age of majority causes problems when students try to get timely healthcare, and the bill would allow students to make decisions for themselves as adults.
ASUN officially gave its support on Jan. 29, and a Judiciary Committee hearing for the bill was held on Jan. 31.
Introduced by District 33 Sen. Steve Halloran on Jan. 16, 2019, the bill would allow governing school boards, or the equivalent of, to create a concealed carry program for employees on school grounds and school-sanctioned events and activities, according to the bill.
These school officials would be able to develop a program authorizing school employees with valid permits issued under the Concealed Handgun Permit Act to carry handguns. The bill would allow schools to develop guidelines requiring employees to undergo additional training or restrict the concealed carry to only specific classes or types of employees; specific places, events or circumstances; or impose any other additional requirements or conditions determined by the governing body.
The bill was carried over into this legislative session, but no other action has been taken.
Introduced by District 28 Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks on Jan. 15, 2019, the NU system would develop an evidence-based, data-driven, strategic action plan for combating climate change, according to the bill.
The plan would include baseline measurements of greenhouse gas emissions of the state of Nebraska, the assessment of risks and vulnerabilities from negative impacts of climate change and potential economic impacts, both positive and negative, of taking action among other information.
The state treasurer, at the direction of the budget administrator of the budget division of the Department of Administrative Services, would transfer an amount of funds not to exceed $250,000 in total from the Petroleum Release Remedial Action Collection Fund to the NU system on or before Dec. 15. The university would submit the action plan to Ricketts and electronically to the Executive Board of the Legislative Council on or before that date as well.
District 7 Sen. Tony Vargas filed AM2116 on Jan. 24 to replace Section 1 of the original bill with alternate wording. The amendment is still pending.
Introduced by Sen. Pansing Brooks on Jan. 14, the bill would prevent publicly funded colleges and universities in Nebraska from inquiring about criminal history or juvenile court record information as part of the student application or admission process, according to the bill.
The information could not be asked for unless given voluntarily or specifically required by state or federal law.
A Judiciary Committee hearing for the bill was held on Jan. 30.