Nebraska proposes legislation to make schools and state employees accountable for child abuse.

In Lincoln, there is a proposal progressing in the Legislature that could hold officials in public schools or other Nebraska political subdivisions accountable if they fail to ensure the safety of children under their supervision.

Senator Justin Wayne from Omaha introduced Legislative Bill 25, following days of deliberation and negotiation that led to the replacement of Senator Steve Halloran’s LB 341 on Tuesday. The restructured LB 25 aligns with some aspects of LB 325 by Senator George Dungan from Lincoln in terms of legal liability provisions.

As per the revised LB 25, potential lawsuits may be pursued against political subdivisions or their employees in cases of child abuse or sexual assault involving a child. The harm must directly result from the failure of the political subdivision or its employee to exercise reasonable care towards the well-being of the child under their care or custody.

Senator Wayne, reflecting on the outcome of the votes, expressed, “We’re not aiming for complete restitution for these individuals, but rather, seeking the best legal remedy available within the constraints of the law.”

Following Senator Wayne’s amendment, adopted by a 32-15 vote, LB 25 advanced with a 26-14 vote, with eight lawmakers marked as “present, not voting.”

Unveiling Potential Consequences

Opposition from State Senator Carolyn Bosn of Lincoln, a former prosecutor, centered on raising concerns that existing laws hold school officials accountable if they neglect investigations despite being aware of misconduct, deemed necessary under the “reasonable care” standard. Bosn refrained from voting on LB 25 or any associated amendments.

Disagreement arose between Senators Dungan and Wayne, both lawyers themselves, who disputed Bosn’s assertion that the existing law suffices in this context.

During conversations with Senators Ben Hansen of Blair and Mike Jacobson of North Platte, Bosn contemplated an amendment that could limit recovery damages to $500,000, focusing on the possibility of narrowing the bill’s application to K-12 schools or expanding victim options beyond lawsuits. Bosn emphasized the importance of proactive support rather than reactive responses in the face of harm.

Sen. Jacobson highlighted the perspective that LB 25 might give an advantage to attorneys representing affected families or children by pinpointing possible sources of compensation. Meanwhile, Sen. Jacobson cautioned against the potential repercussions of the legislation, underscoring the broader ramifications of its implementation.

Upholding the Mandate to Safeguard Children

Amidst criticisms, Senators Steve Erdman from Bayard and Julie Slama from Dunbar called out opponents for their contradictory stance of claiming to prioritize child safety while voting against Senator Wayne’s bill.

Senator Erdman, a staunch ally of Senator Halloran, justified the initiative as a necessary step in addressing inadequacies within schools. He asserted that schools adhering to proper practices should have no qualms about the bill’s implications.

Expressing disbelief at the controversy surrounding LB 25, Senator Erdman credited his efforts to protect the state’s most vulnerable, signaling a clear stand on safeguarding children to his constituents.

Senator Slama drew attention to other legislative endeavors this session, contrasting those aimed at filtering library contents or determining gender-specific facilities and sports teams based on birth sex, which drew opposition from Wayne’s amendment. Notably, the sponsors of these bills, Senators Joni Albrecht of Thurston and Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, opposed Wayne’s amendment and voted against advancing LB 25.

Senator Halloran acknowledged his satisfaction with the bill’s potential to establish a level playing field by enabling accountability for public schools akin to what exists for private institutions.

While concerns were raised about possible tax implications stemming from lawsuits against public schools, Senator Slama challenged opponents to consider the gravity of potential actions by the school districts that could necessitate legal action.

Ensuring Accountability and Remediation

Senator Christy Armendariz from Omaha affirmed her support for litigating against any entity implicated in crimes against minors, suggesting a more targeted approach in refining LB 25 to specifically target wrongdoers.

Asserting the limitations in exerting influence over school policies and practices within school premises, Sen. Armendariz cautioned against burdening taxpayers with financial penalties that may not effectively address the desired cultural shift.

Noting that LB 25 falls short in highlighting the unwavering stance against harming children, Senator Armendariz proposed holding accountable all entities linked to employees involved in such crimes, urging a proactive approach in addressing the underlying issues.

Senator Wayne emphasized the critical aspect of raising awareness and potential liabilities for schools, municipalities, or counties in cases where foreseeable harm is neglected, stressing the bill’s implications in protecting children.

Reflecting on the progress of the Legislature, Senator Wayne expressed pride in their collective effort to pass a bill aimed at safeguarding children, affirming its potential impact.

As the legislative session nears its conclusion with three days remaining, LB 25 is slated for further deliberation on Wednesday, with the final vote scheduled for April 18.

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