A proposal to update Nebraska's 1949 Americanism statutes got the yo-yo treatment in the Legislature on Friday.

While the measure (LB399) introduced by Sen. Julie Slama was scheduled to be heard a third and final time, an amendment reworking the bill's clunky and antiquated language was not available for consideration earlier this week.

So Slama, of Peru, asked lawmakers to pull her bill back to select file, or the second round of consideration, to hear two separate amendments.

The first amendment was brought by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas to exclude students with fewer than two years of English language instruction, as well as those with individualized education plans, from being required to complete the civics education parts of Slama's bill.

That was similar to language inserted into a bill the Legislature passed last year setting reading standards for Nebraska's third-graders, Vargas said.

But senators, while stating they believed Vargas had good intentions, asked what purpose separating English language learners and those with specialized-learning plans from their peers would achieve.

"Is there ever a time when these students would engage in this process?" asked Sen. John Arch of Papillion.

Vargas said his amendment didn't exclude those students from participating in the civics education options outlined in Slama's bill, it only meant they could not be required to under law.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, the Education Committee chairman, supported similar language in the reading standards bill last year, but said adding that language to LB399 diluted the bill.

Groene said a low score on the Nebraska State Assessment for Reading would go on a student's permanent record, while the score from the civics portion of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration test — one of the three options schools could choose as part of LB399 —  would not.

"It is a privilege for these kids who need it most to be prepped to take that test," Groene said. "If they came here when they were 1 or 3, they are not American citizens, and they may someday wish to be. Some will take this test proudly to become American citizens."

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn raised concerns that Vargas' proposed amendment would result in different treatment among students when it comes to civics education.

Vargas' amendment failed, receiving only 21 votes — it needed 25 to be adopted — and LB399 was again moved to final reading.

The Legislature then, upon Slama's request, once more pulled the bill back to select file, this time to adopt clean-up language she worked on with Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers.

The longtime senator led opposition to LB399 as a bill that ignored the experience of African-Americans in the U.S., and reflected poorly upon the Legislature by using clunky, even confusing, language.

Slama and Chambers compromised on a revision of the bill's language without changing its substance earlier this week.

The original 1949 Americanism statute read: "An informed, loyal, just, and patriotic citizenry is necessary to a strong, stable, just and prosperous America."

Upon Chambers' recommendation, Slama's bill was changed to read: "It is the responsibility of society to ensure that youth are given the opportunity to become competent, responsible, patriotic and civil citizens to ensure a strong, stable, just and prosperous America."

Groene lauded the changes offered by Chambers and said the bill was better with the Omaha senator's help.

"He is as good or even better than the old English teacher I had," Groene said.

The amendment was adopted 44-0 and LB399 was, for the third time, advanced to final reading. It will be considered again next week.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.


Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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