LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers gave first-round approval Monday to a bill aimed at offering more help to schoolchildren with mental and behavioral concerns.

Legislative Bill 998, introduced by State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, would put a social worker in each of the state’s 17 educational service units. ESUs are regional entities that provide support services to local school districts.

Walz said the proposal represents one answer to Nebraska’s long-standing need for more mental and behavioral health services for children.

“It’s time to ensure that students with mental health issues do not get lost,” she said.

Under LB 998, the social workers would work with local school personnel to identify children in need of help, then connect those children and their parents with community resources.

The social workers also would provide training for teachers and other school personnel on behavioral health issues. An amendment added Monday would require each school building to designate one staff member to collaborate with the social worker.

Walz said that, as planned, private donations would cover the $3.6 million cost of the program for three years.

The original version of the bill called for school districts within each ESU to chip in funds to continue the program.

The amended version removed any reference to using property taxes or other public funds for the program. It also would end the program in 2022 unless lawmakers act to extend it.

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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