A school safety reporting system was approved in the second round after a long debate April 6.
Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg said he introduced LB 322 to reduce violent incidents in all K-12 schools in Nebraska by having a trained crisis team on staff 24/7.
The reporting line, Safe2HelpNE, would allow students, school staff, parents and community members to anonymously share information about concerning behavior by phone, mobile app, website or email. Some examples of concerning behavior that may be reported include bullying, stalking, bomb threats, family violence, physical or sexual abuse, mental health concerns, behavior indicative of terrorism, threatening statements and assault.
Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue supported the bill for its positive intent.
“It’s about helping people; it’s about bringing resources to somebody who may not know where to reach out for those resources by people who are trained professionals,” she said.
Along with the bill, senators heard an amendment that addresses some prior concerns including funding and the lack of parental involvement.
With the amendment, the bill proposes that the costs will be covered through federal funds for three years. After the three-year period, the Nebraska Department of Education would have to prove the program is worth continuing in order to receive more state funding.
Additionally, the bill includes a section that ensures a parent or guardian would be contacted if a credible threat is reported involving a student or others unless it is believed that it will contribute to their endangerment.
Even with proposed changes to the bill, some senators still have concerns about the potential negative effects of the reporting system.
Many were concerned that the anonymous concept of the bill could cause people to make false accusations about one another without consequences.
“This makes it OK to make accusations. Save a life or two, I’m sure it will. Destroy a life or two, I’m sure it will,” Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said.
Williams said that in the Nebraska School Security Assessment, nearly 99% of the 6,225 students surveyed indicated they would be more likely to report a gun brought to school if they could do it anonymously.
In opposition to the concerns, Blood said, “What we’re talking about is mental health, and two-thirds of the people that we serve are going to tell you that mental health issues are a priority in Nebraska, it’s a bipartisan issue.”
In 2020, a pilot program in Boys Town for schools in Douglas County served as a trial run of the anonymous reporting system.
There were 470 reports to the Boys Town program, and Williams said it is believed that there was not a single prank call. The reports to the hotline varied from suicide threats, drug use or misuse, bullying or cyberbullying, depression or other mental health concerns, and threats against property.
“This was brought to me and is supported by all of the education associations in our state, the large schools, the small schools, the middle size schools. It’s also supported by the police officers of Omaha and many others,” he said. “It’s supported because it’s a proven fact that it works. It will save lives, as we go forward, we can always find ways and reasons to poke holes at things. This isn’t one of them.”
Williams reminded the senators that it is optional for schools to implement the reporting line.
“I really find it hard to believe that everybody in this body wouldn’t want to support this bill and this amendment,” Blood said.
The bill along with the amendment was passed on a 41-0 vote. Moving forward, the bill needs to pass through final reading and governor approval before becoming a state law.