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Lawmakers advance bill requiring sexual abuse prevention training in schools


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    LINCOLN, Nebraska (Omaha World-Herald) — Public schools would have to teach all students about body safety and about learning to recognize, refuse and report child sexual abuse under a bill given first-round approval in the Nebraska Legislature on Monday.

Legislative Bill 281, introduced by State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, advanced in spite of questions about whether the requirements should cover private and parochial schools and whether they would amount to an unfunded mandate on schools.

Albrecht said she introduced the bill at the request of a constituent who had experience with child sexual abuse. The measure is similar to laws passed in 37 other states in recent years that have prompted several children to speak up about being abused.

One of the supporters, Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, talked of having a great-grandchild be abused and the pain of sitting through the abuser’s trial with her. He urged support for the measure, saying lawmakers need to do anything they can to help such situations.

As amended by the Education Committee, LB 281 would require four hours a year of sexual abuse prevention lessons for K-12 students. The lessons would have to be age-appropriate and use evidence-based methods to teach about body safety and about recognizing, refusing and reporting abuse.

The bill would require schools to train teachers, administrators and other school staff about child sexual abuse prevention and reporting. They would also have to reach out to parents with information about preventing abuse and about discussing the topic with children.

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha cast the lone vote against the bill, despite saying she had experiences with child sexual abuse. She argued that the Legislature should not direct curriculum decisions for schools and that the measure would impose requirements without an ongoing source of funding. The bill calls for schools to use federal funds to pay for the abuse prevention training. But not all schools qualify for those funds.

Hunt noted that several districts already provide such training and that the State Department of Education is working on health education standards that deal with child sexual abuse.

But Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said the Legislature has already passed curriculum mandates, including bills dealing with reading instruction and with Americanism and civics education. She said she backs the bill to protect children. Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn said lawmakers needed to step in because state education officials have not acted, even after telling lawmakers they would do so six years ago.

Other lawmakers questioned why the bill does not apply to private and parochial schools. Sen. Rich Pahls of Omaha called for the mandate to be broadened because abuse happens in all kinds of schools. Two other senators from Omaha said priests connected with the Catholic schools they attended as children have since been named as child sexual abusers.

Pahls met with opposition from Sen. Rob Clements of Elmwood, who said it would be government overreach to apply the requirements to private and parochial schools.

Albrecht said she believed that the private and parochial schools were already addressing the issue. But she offered to talk with Pahls about a possible compromise before the bill returns for second-round debate.

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