Statewide School Safety Reporting System Amended, Advanced by NE Senators

Lawmakers adopted an amendment to change the funding source for a proposed school safety reporting program before giving the bill second-round approval April 6. The reporting system — to be named the Safe2HelpNE report line — would allow students, school staff, parents and community members to report information about concerning behavior or possible harm to people or property anonymously and free of charge by telephone, mobile app, website or email.LB322, sponsored by Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams, would require the state Department of Education to establish a statewide, anonymous reporting system to support threat assessment teams with the goal of reducing violent incidents.

The report line would be available to any public or nonpublic school that has a threat assessment team and maintains a current list of contact information for at least five team members designated to receive alerts from report line staff 24/7. As introduced, the bill would have appropriated $899,000 in general funds for the reporting system in fiscal year 2021-22 and FY22-23. At the end of 10 years, the department would report cost-benefit data and recommendations to the Legislature regarding the continued viability of the report line.

Williams offered an amendment on select file that instead would state a legislative finding that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the health and well-being of Nebraska students, resulting in the need for the reporting system. He said the language would allow the state to use federal CARES Act funds to pay for the bill’s provisions through FY22-23. The department then would conduct the cost-benefit analysis and report to the Legislature with recommendations regarding continued funding.

The amendment also would require parental notification within a reasonable period of time if a report regarding a student is deemed credible, unless such notification reasonably could be believed to contribute to the endangerment of the student or others. Williams said the provision would address concerns that parental involvement was left out of the original bill.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte cited those concerns in his opposition to LB322 during general file debate and called the amendment an improvement. Students ultimately are the responsibility of parents and not the school system, he said.“At the end of the day, they’re somebody’s children,” Groene said.

Kearney Sen. John Lowe expressed concern that students may make unfounded reports through the system that would have long-range repercussions. “I’m still worried,” he said. “We may save lives by doing this, but may we also damage other lives by doing this?” Following adoption of the Williams amendment on a 41-0 vote, senators advanced LB322 to final reading by voice vote.