LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill Thursday that could boost funding for early childhood education and cut student transportation costs within the Omaha area.
Legislative Bill 585 also would reduce the taxing authority of the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties by one-third.
The measure, introduced by State Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, passed 41-0.
His original bill would have made major changes in the Learning Community governance, as well as changes in its property tax authority.
The bill as passed represents a compromise with backers of the Learning Community.
Under current law, the Learning Community can levy up to 3 cents for its own programs and capital projects, although it has never used all of that authority.
LB 585 would cut the maximum property tax levy to 2 cents, of which 1˝ cents would be reserved for early childhood education, elementary learning centers and other programs. Current law allows only 1 cent for programs, and the list of approved uses does not include early childhood education.
The remaining half-cent could be used for capital projects.
LB 585 also would halve transportation costs by eliminating free busing for students who use the Learning Community's open enrollment program to attend a different school within their home district or to attend a district that does not share a boundary with their home district.
Nebraska lawmakers created the Learning Community four years ago to resolve boundary and funding disputes in the metro area, but it has remained controversial, especially in Sarpy County.
The 11 school districts within the Learning Community have a common property tax levy. Funds from state school aid and the common levy are redistributed among the districts with the goal of sharing resources equitably across the Omaha area.
Backers hope the Learning Community structure will help schools close achievement gaps for disadvantaged students.
Among other bills passed Thursday:
» Local investments. Entrepreneurs would have a little easier time starting up and small towns would have an easier time saving local businesses through community ownership under LB 205, which passed 41-0.
The bill would exempt business ventures of less than $250,000 from requirements of the State Securities Act.
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, the sponsor, said ventures could sell stock in their enterprises under the bill, with investors taking on the financial risks.
» OPPD board. Omaha Public Power District board members would all have to be elected by district under LB 646, which passed 41-0.
Currently, five of the eight board members are elected at-large from within Omaha and three are elected from districts outside of the city.
Sen. John Murante of Gretna, the bill's sponsor, said the change would make it easier for a minority candidate to be elected to the board.
» Move over. Drivers would have to move over a lane when passing utility vehicles stopped on the Interstate or a four-lane expressway under LB 154, passed 41-0.
Sponsored by Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, the bill adds to the types of vehicles for which drivers are expected to move over. Existing law requires drivers to move over, if possible, when passing emergency or motorist assist vehicles.
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