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.

Americanism revamp. Nebraska lawmakers pushed past controversy Thursday to pass a bill revamping the state’s Americanism law and requirements for civics education.

Legislative Bill 399, introduced by State Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, passed on a 44-2 vote. Sens. Ernie Chambers and Megan Hunt of Omaha, who had argued that the bill verged on compulsory patriotism, voted against the bill.

The legislation would update a state law passed in 1949, when Americans were concerned about the spread of communism and the nation had just finished a war with the Nazis.

Previous attempts to update the law stalled over controversy about a proposal to require each student to take the same civics test that immigrants take for citizenship.

This time, Slama agreed to a compromise under which schools could choose one of three options for students. The options include taking a civics test, going to a government meeting followed by doing a paper or project, or doing a project or paper and class presentation about a person or event commemorated by one of the holidays named in the bill.

Among other changes, LB 399 would replace the term “Americanism” with the more neutral “American civics” and would repeal a provision under which teachers and administrators could be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to carry out the law.

The bill would leave in place requirements for students to memorize patriotic songs, develop respect for the American flag and learn about the “dangers and fallacies” of anti-democratic forms of government, including Nazism and communism. Schools also would have to hold “appropriate patriotic exercises” for selected holidays.

Tax deeds. Delinquent property taxpayers would get more notice about the risk of losing their property because of unpaid taxes under a bill passed 47-0 on Thursday by the Nebraska Legislature.

LB 463, introduced by Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, deals with a legal process by which people or companies can pay off the delinquent taxes of a property owner and then, after waiting three years, acquire the property if the property owner doesn’t pay the taxes, plus 14 percent interest.

A series of stories in The World-Herald last year detailed how some landowners, who were unaware that someone else had acquired a legal interest in their property, eventually lost their homes or farmland.

In one case, an infirm 94-year-old widow living in a North Platte nursing home lost a farm valued at $1.1 million to an investment company that paid $50,000 in back taxes and interest. One Nebraska Supreme Court judge described the deal as “a windfall that borders on the obscene.”

LB 463 would set up a three-step notification process, starting with a county deputy delivering notification to both the landowner and the person renting or living on the land. The notice would say that someone was ready to obtain a tax deed on a property.

The last step of the process would be publication of a legal notice in the paper selected by the local county board for legal notices. Current law requires publication in any newspaper in the county, which could be one with limited circulation.

Food stamps. Nebraska lawmakers closed out three hours of debate without reaching a vote Thursday on a bill to allow some drug felons to get food assistance.

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, who introduced LB 169, said she expects that the bill will come back for renewed debate next week.

She said she has enough votes to cut off a filibuster mounted by the measure’s opponents.

She won over some senators with a compromise amendment offered Thursday.

The compromise would continue to bar people convicted of drug distribution and people convicted three or more times of drug possession or use from ever getting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly called food stamps.

But it would allow people convicted of possession or use one or two times to get SNAP benefits if they have completed or are complying with probation, parole or post-release supervision. Current law sets higher standards, requiring those people to be in or have completed in a state-licensed or nationally accredited substance abuse treatment program.

”I’ve worked in good faith to get to the middle on this,” Hunt said.

She argued that the proposal would help former inmates stay out of prison and noted that other felons, including rapists, robbers and murderers, face no such bar to getting food assistance.

But Hunt’s amendment didn’t win over all opponents.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte argued that drug felons should go to food banks or soup kitchens, where they would not be able to make money from the help they get. Sen. John Lowe of Kearney said a hungry person should look for work, rather than turning to the government.

Capitol Digest reporters photo xcapitoldigest capitoldigest

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

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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