Pledge of Allegiance requirement in schools under fire; tax wrangling continues

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March 18, 2013 - 5:37pm

A requirement for Nebraska schools to set aside time for students to recite the pledge of allegiance came under attack in a public hearing Monday, while wrangling over taxes continues

Last year, a bill requiring students to be led in the Pledge of Allegiance every day died in the Education Committee. But in August, the State Board of Education approved a rule requiring schools to set aside time for the pledge during the school day.

Now, Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers is proposing a law to nullify that rule, and prohibit the board from requiring any pledge. Chambers says the board did an end-around the Legislature.

David Moshman of the ACLU and the Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska supported Chambers’s proposal. Moshman invited Education Committee members to imagine students in the future being required to pledge allegiance to the United Nations or the United Federation of Planets.

"We may differ and so may those who follow us as to which pledge we like best. But we should all agree that we don’t want the state Board of Education requiring all students be led in any of them," Moshman said. "Of course Nebraska students must learn about many things, including the United States and its flag. But learning about something is not the same thing as pledging allegiance to it. Leading children in oaths and pledges is indoctrination, not education."

Greg Holloway of the Disabled American Veterans opposed the proposal. Holloway argued against Chambers’ point that the Legislature should nullify the state Board of Education’s rule.

"They elect the board of education. Let them do their job. Let them not be micromanaged," Holloway said. "If we decide to not let them do what they feel is necessary to educate our children on this matter, then what is next? Are we going to say ‘Alright, here’s the history book that you have to have’ -- the one that the Legislature of Nebraska decides that’s the one it’s going to be?" he asked.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Meanwhile, the Legislature continued debating a measure that would form a Tax Modernization Committee to study and recommend changes to the state’s tax system. Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, sponsor of the legislation, said a study is needed because a lot has changed since the state instituted a sales and income tax to go along with property taxes in the late 1960s.

Schumacher said the economy has become more service-oriented, jobs and people are more mobile, and states have engaged in almost a race to the bottom in terms of revenue-raising ability. "And as that happened, we incrementally took exceptions and made adjustments and gave credits and deductions and incentives. And that probably overly complicated our tax system," he said.

Some senators are complaining that even before the study, the Revenue Committee is recommending additional tax exemptions this year. One of those is a proposal by Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton that would exempt ag machinery replacement and repair parts from the sales tax. That would reduce state revenues by about $10 million a year when fully implemented.

On Monday, Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy complained that Dubas was holding back her own bill, LB96. "Sen. Dubas has now asked for a ‘Speaker’s hold’ on LB96, which would effectively kill the bill," McCoy said.

Dubas denied it. "I don’t know where that came from because I did not ask for that," she said. "I did have a conversation with the speaker last week just kind of wanting to know ‘What’s your plan? Is it going to come up soon?’ I said maybe we need to see where this discussion is going before scheduling it, but I certainly did not ask anybody, tell anybody I was going to kill my bill, nor did I ask not to have it scheduled."

Speaker Greg Adams said no hold has been placed on the bill, although he said he did discuss with Dubas when it should be scheduled for debate. Adams said it has not yet been scheduled.

 

Editor's note: NET’s coverage of the Legislature this week will include televising a legislative hearing. On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hear four bills dealing with gun rights. You can watch that hearing beginning at 1:30 central on NET2 World, or see it streamed live on our website, netnebraska.org

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