Guns in school? Nebraska could arm teachers, staff under legislative proposal

Guns in school? Nebraska could arm teachers, staff under legislative proposal
State Sen. Steve Halloran

LINCOLN — By the time law enforcement can respond to a school shooting, it’s usually too late, said State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings.

That’s especially true in rural communities, Halloran said, where a sheriff’s deputy or police officer might be miles away.

“The damage is done in two to three minutes, so if you don’t have someone there prepared to defend the school, law enforcement ends up putting toe tags on bodies and writing reports,” he said.

On Wednesday, Halloran introduced the latest effort to allow teachers and school staff to bear concealed handguns — and it attracted immediate pushback.

“Guns are the problem, not the solution,” said Melody Vaccaro of Lincoln, the vice president of Nebraskans Against Gun Violence.

Halloran’s Legislative Bill 343 would give school districts, colleges and universities the option of permitting school personnel, after passing a state concealed carry class, to carry a handgun on campus.

Halloran said he introduced the measure, titled the School Safety Rapid Response Option Act, because it’s a common-sense approach to the problem, especially for rural schools. It was not, he said, introduced on behalf of any school or for the powerful National Rifle Association, which contributed $500 to his 2016 campaign.

The idea of arming school staff is not new, but it gained new attention after the February 2018 killing of 17 students and staff members at a high school in Parkland, Florida. President Donald Trump has supported the idea.

A year ago, Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has been backed by the NRA, told Omaha TV station KETV that he was “not opposed” to arming teachers, but felt that a general conversation about school safety was needed.

Putting guns in the classroom has prompted fierce pushback from many educators and gun control advocates.

At a legislative hearing in September, a representative of the Nebraska Association of School Boards testified that school districts might not use the option of arming teachers.

The Omaha Public Schools board voted last year to oppose allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.

Vaccaro said there’s a big difference between the hundreds of hours of gun training provided to law enforcement and the eight- to 16-hour courses required to obtain a state, concealed carry permit.

“There’s just no comparison,” she said, adding that there’s no proof that arming school staff will make schools safer.

Her group, Vaccaro said, supports “red flag” policies that allow judges to take guns away from people deemed to be dangerous. Thirteen states have such laws, and a red flag bill has been introduced in the Nebraska Legislature this year by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld.

In 2014, then-Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial offered a proposal similar to the Halloran bill. It faced staunch opposition from education groups, and never advanced to debate by the full Legislature.

Halloran’s bill is expected to face a tough road in advancing from the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee to debate by the full Legislature.

“It will create a healthy conversation,” the senator said.

Convention of States. Nebraskans rallied Wednesday at the Capitol in support of Legislative Resolution 7, which would put the state on record calling for a constitutional convention to rein in the power of the federal government.

The resolution, introduced by State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, says the convention would be limited to proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for federal officials.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides for such a convention if 34 states call for one. So far, 12 have done so. Halloran said he believes he can get the measure passed in Nebraska, although a similar measure fell short last year. He also expressed confidence that the convention could be limited in scope and would not undermine existing provisions of the Constitution.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha has offered a separate measure, LR 9, calling for a constitutional convention to undo recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have overturned campaign finance laws. Meanwhile, Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue introduced LR 2, which would nullify the nine previously passed legislative resolutions calling for a constitutional convention under Article V.

Tax overhaul. Last year, Albion Sen. Tom Briese says he mustered 30 votes for his multifaceted plan to provide property tax relief (by shifting the load onto sales and income taxes), but not enough to end a filibuster.

On Wednesday, he introduced a similar plan, Legislative Bill 314, which is backed by a coalition of groups, including the powerful Nebraska State Education Association and the Nebraska Farm Bureau. The plan includes a 1⁄2-cent hike in state sales taxes and a surcharge on high-income earners ($250,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a couple). New this year is the elimination of itemized income tax deductions and steep increases in taxes on beer, wine and spirits.

Briese said newly elected senators, as well as greater urgency to help “reeling” farmers, make him confident that he can get the bill passed this year. Gov. Pete Ricketts has said he’ll oppose any tax hikes, or tax shifts, to ease property taxes. But Briese argues that his plan is revenue-neutral — not a tax hike. He estimates that it will generate nearly $800 million for property tax relief and increased state aid to schools.

Mandatory overtime. Overworked state corrections officersand regional center employees would get some relief from a bill proposed by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart. LB 345 would prohibit workers at 24-hour care institutions from working more than 12 hours a day or working seven days straight without a day off. Prison staff complain that at some facilities, they are required to work 16 hours a day, more than once a week, to cover unfilled posts.

Legal footsie. Practitioners of reflexology would not have to be licensed as massage therapists under LB 347, introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil. The bill continues recent efforts to reduce unnecessary occupational licensing regulation. It defines reflexology as using the practitioner’s hands to apply pressure to the feet, hands and outer ears of the customer.

Corrections 101. Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who is returning to the Legislature after sitting out four years due to term limits, is wasting no time getting himself, and his colleagues, up to speed on issues surrounding Nebraska’s overcrowded prisons. He led a tour Tuesday of two Lincoln prisons for fellow lawmakers, and held a briefing Wednesday to acquaint legislators with the parole and probation offices, and the role of the inspector general for corrections.