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Lawmakers advanced a bill adding early childhood education and day care centers to the list of projects available for economic development grants or loans to second-round debate on Wednesday.

The bill (LB160) by Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island would allow cities and towns to provide a portion of sales or property tax dollars to child care businesses under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development.

Quick said the bill would help Nebraska cities and towns address a lack of those services, which would help bring and retain new businesses and employees to the state.

A handful of senators expressed concern that Quick's proposal would limit the funds to programs "of known quality," thereby preventing in-home day care providers from seeking funds to expand their businesses.

As written, LB160 defined quality as "meeting or exceeding a step three quality scale rating based on quality rating criteria as provided under the Step Up to Quality Child Care Act," passed by the Legislature and maintained by the state.

Offering to show her colleagues the Step Up to Quality Child Care Act, Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha said it provided parents valuable information about what to look for in seeking education and care for their children.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said it should be up to local voters to decide which programs are eligible for the funds, not the state government.

He suggested the bill limit its qualifications to "a business that derives its source of income from child care," and both Quick and Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, chairman of the Urban Affairs Committee which advanced the bill onto the floor, said they were willing to strike the language referencing quality programs.

The floor amendment passed 32-0. The bill advanced to second round with 31 votes.

Under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development program, which was enacted by the Legislature in 1990 through LB840, city councils and town boards are required to form advisory committees to study the proposed projects. The committees then make recommendations to the city council, which by a two-thirds vote can put it on the ballot to be voted on by the people.

The projects available to receive LB840 funds have expanded several times since the program began nearly three decades ago.

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

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

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

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