Controversial ‘Opportunity Scholarship’ issue gains new life; ‘it’s not trickery,’ Linehan says

By: - March 1, 2022 6:19 pm
Sen. Brewer

State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

LINCOLN — An issue thought to be dead for the 2022 session — providing state tax credits for donations to private school scholarships — has found a rare path to resurrection.

A so-called “Opportunity Scholarship” proposal from State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, which was blocked by a filibuster after it was introduced last year, failed again to advance in early January because of another filibuster from critics who called it a roundabout way to provide public funds to private schools.

Once a bill fails to overcome a filibuster, it is typically considered dead for the year.  

State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan
State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn
(Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Second bill introduced

But a week after Legislative Bill 364 stalled, Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer introduced his own Opportunity Scholarship proposal, LB 1237.

There is no prohibition on a second bill, on virtually the same subject, being debated in the same legislative session. So lawmakers may debate the idea for the third time in two years.

LB 1237, the new bill, was amended into another measure last week and voted out of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee on a 6-0 vote. The committee made LB 730, which now includes the Opportunity Scholarship proposal, a committee priority bill, which gives it a better chance of being debated.

Brewer said he reintroduced the idea because he hated to see the original bill go down in flames. He said his proposal, which is slightly different, might be more likely to win approval.

His bill, unlike Linehan’s, would cap the tax credit available to an individual or corporation at $25,000. They are called “opportunity scholarship” measures because supporters believe that private schools offer a better opportunity for learning for some students.

“I just felt like it was an important enough issue that needed more discussion,” Brewer said of bringing the issue back. 

‘Not trickery’

Linehan said Tuesday she knows some colleagues are calling the unusual resurrection of the idea from the dead “trickery.”

“It’s not trickery,” said the senator, who has made opportunity scholarship bills her personal priority.

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha
State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, one of the leaders of the filibuster that stopped the previous Opportunity Scholarship proposals, said that while she admired the persistence of Brewer, Linehan and other supporters of the idea, it is an issue that has been debated, and defeated, several times in the Legislature before.

“I think there is clearly not an appetite to approve funds to private schools that can legally discriminate against children,” said Hunt, a reference to her belief that private schools can discriminate against LGBT students.

Hunt added that a third debate over an issue that has already been debated and blocked twice in the past two years is not a good use of the Legislature’s time.

Christmas tree bill

Brewer said his bill might have a better chance of advancing, though he wonders if there will be enough time in the last 26 days of the 60-day session for a discussion, given the long debates anticipated over the budget and other controversial issues.

LB 1237 is paired with several other proposals in LB 730, a so-called “Christmas tree bill” because it has so many “ornaments,” or bills, in it. That might win more support for the multi-proposal measure, but it might also gain more opposition because a senator might not like all the ornaments.

The other measures amended into LB 730 include: a state income tax credit for contributions to early childhood education programs; a tax credit for companies that employ apprentices or trainees; and a renewal of tax credits for renovations of historic buildings, providers of child care services and beginning farmers.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.