The World-Herald’s Statehouse reporters round up news highlights from the Legislature and state government into the Capitol Digest — a daily briefing for the political newshound with a busy schedule.

Student discipline. A rarely used “pull” motion passed with the minimum 25 votes Tuesday night, allowing a chance for a floor debate on the controversial issue of physical restraint of disruptive students.

State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte filed the pull motion after his Legislative Bill 147 was deadlocked, 4-4, in the Education Committee, which he chairs.

A lengthy dispute over the motion to pull the bill so it could be debated by the full Legislature included several barbs over who was responsible for the deadlock. There was also criticism that such motions run counter to the tradition of letting legislative committees decide which bills are ready for prime-time debate, and which ones aren’t.

Groene, who has introduced similar discipline bills in the past, said LB 146 is needed so teachers can “control” their classroom and protect other students from violent, disruptive classmates. He added that current state law doesn’t clearly spell out the rights of teachers.

But groups that represent school administrators and disabled students opposed a compromise amendment drafted by several education groups, including the powerful state teachers union.

The compromise would let teachers use “reasonable physical contact” to protect a student, school personnel or others from “imminent physical injury,” unless the force is used to cause pain, uses mechanical restraints or pushes a child into a prone, face-down position on the ground. The bill also would grant teachers immunity from lawsuits unless their use of force was flagrant, reckless or used in gross negligence.

LB 147 was supported by the NSEA, which, ironically, spent heavily in an attempt to defeat Groene for re-election last year.

The senator, however, said he’s not holding a grudge. “We have allowed violent and angry students, those who are enraged, to dictate what happens in the classroom,” Groene said. “We need to ensure that teachers can control their classrooms.”

But opponents said LB 147 was unnecessary, could especially harm students with disabilities or behavioral issues, and went too far in encouraging teachers to use physical force on students. Fremont Sen. Lynn Walz said that teachers need to get better training on how to deal with unruly students and de-escalate problems, and where to find help for students with behavioral and mental problems.

”This bill does nothing to address the root causes,” Walz said, adding that there was a reason the bill wasn’t advanced by the Education Committee.

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Brain injury. Nebraska lawmakers took a major step toward providing community-based services, as well as support and information, for people with brain injuries.

Senators gave first-round approval to an amended version of LB 481, which would put $500,000 a year from the Health Care Cash Fund into a newly created Brain Injury Trust Fund. The new fund would be used to contract with outside sources that specialize in brain injury.

Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha said the need is critical in Nebraska. He said someone in the state suffers a brain injury every hour of every day, with potentially devastating consequences.

He faced opposition from Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee. She objected to taking money from the Health Care Cash Fund, citing a report from the state investment officer that said the fund is not sustainable with the amount of money being drawn from it every year.

But Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, disagreed. He said the state has added to the fund almost every year, using the annual payments made under a national settlement with tobacco companies and the interest earned.

Medicaid expansion. State officials would have to notify the Legislature and hold a public hearing before pursuing certain types of health care reform under an amendment adopted by lawmakers Tuesday.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue offered the amendment to LB 468, introduced by Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont. The amendment would apply to 1115 demonstration waivers, which state Medicaid officials plan to use to set up a two-tier system for Medicaid expansion. The system would have different benefits and more stringent requirements than traditional Medicaid.

The amendment also would apply if the State Department of Insurance seeks a 1332 innovation waiver under the Affordable Care Act. States can use such waivers to implement innovative ways to provide access to health care.

Donnybrook over taxes, business incentives. Lots of discussion, and strategizing, is underway for Wednesday’s pivotal debate over two of the top issues of the 2019 session: property tax relief and a replacement for the Advantage Act, the state’s top tax incentive package for growing businesses.

A major question is whether the ImagiNE Act, or Legislative Bill 720, has the necessary 33 votes of senators to head off a filibuster led mostly by rural lawmakers who have pledged to block it unless they get substantial property tax relief.

If you ask around the Capitol, there’s plenty of doubt about that.

With only a few days left in the 2019 session, Wednesday sets up as decision day on those two big issues.

Honestly, it’s an award winner. Nebraska’s edgy tourism motto created national buzz last year — and now has won a national award. The Nebraska Tourism Commission, along with Turner PR, recently won a Bronze Anvil award in the “word of mouth” category for its slogan, “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”

Honestly, not everyone loved the motto, but it did create an amazing national discussion about Nebraska and whether its tourism possibilities weren’t for everyone.

The Bronze Anvil Awards are given by the Public Relations Society of America.

Capitol Digest reporters photo xcapitoldigest capitoldigest

From left, World-Herald legislative reporters Martha Stoddard, Paul Hammel and Aaron Hegarty.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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