Legislature Considers School Social Workers, Prepares for Budget Debate

Senator Lynn Walz, District 15, Fremont

Nebraska lawmakers are slated to begin debate on a new $8.8 billion, two-year state budget in the coming week.

The package is scheduled for legislative floor debate on Tuesday. The spending plan covers the rest of the current fiscal year and the following fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2019.

It’s likely to spark a number of disagreements among senators. The budget imposes cuts on higher education, including the University of Nebraska. It also contains provisions designed to ensure that abortion providers don’t get federal family-planning money distributed by the state, although opponents say the wording could prevent low-income people from getting access to other health services as well.

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Two former state senators will serve on the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. The commission enforces campaign finance, lobbying and conflict of interest laws for elected officials. Former Senators Tom Carlson of Holdrege and Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids have both been confirmed as new members of the commission.

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Debate in the legislature Friday morning included a discussion of hiring social workers for Nebraska’s public schools. Senator Lynn Walz of Fremont has introduced a bill, named as a Priority Bill by Lincoln Senator Kate Bolz, calling for the hiring of one social worker for each of the state’s 17 educational service units.

Walz quoted a recent survey of school teachers and administrators outlining 5 common needs in schools across the state. “People to provide services, training, awareness of resources, programming, and family support.” She added they are “all areas a Social Worker is able to provide, through her training.”

Bolz pointed out that a similar program is working in the Omaha schools currently.

Bellevue Senator Sue Crawford said she has heard from numerous constituents that many students need mental health treatment or referrals that aren’t provided currently. “County officials, school officials, parents, talking to someone at the grocery store, over and over again I hear ‘teachers need help, parents don’t know where to turn, kids are falling through the cracks’.”

Lawmakers debated but did not vote to advance the bill.

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