Senators Advance Changes to Truancy Statutes

Unicameral Information Office

Students with excessive school absences could receive additional resources under a bill advanced from general file Monday.

In 2010, the Legislature passed a bill requiring school districts to report cases to a county attorney when a student has been absent at least 20 days per year, whether the absences are excused or unexcused.

Under Legislative Bill 568, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, excessive absenteeism would no longer be an independent basis for a juvenile court action. It could still be considered as a factor in other juvenile cases. The bill also would replace official references to “truancy” with “excessive absenteeism.”

Pansing Brooks said most of the juveniles in the juvenile probation system enter it because of truancy.

“Excessive truancy is most frequently coupled with problems going on in the home,” she said. “We can better solve these problems more effectively without sending these cases through the courts.”

Under LB 568, juveniles could be referred to pretrial diversion programs and receive services to address their needs or those of their families. The bill would increase an appropriation to the Community-based Juvenile Services Aid Program from $5 million to $10 million to fund those expanded diversion services.

An amendment, adopted 25-11, would decrease the annual funding to its original level of $5 million until fiscal year 2022-23. Funding would increase to $8.5 million in 2023-24 and each subsequent fiscal year.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop said the bill would be an important reform of a statute that was “the right idea, wrong approach.”

“This isn’t about being ‘soft’ on kids,” he said. “This is about being smart with our resources and dealing with the fundamental, basic problem on a child-by-child basis instead of engaging the juvenile courts and county attorneys.”

Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney spoke in support of LB 568. Many youth with excessive absences are dealing with underlying issues in their home lives, he said.

“I do not believe that just because a student is truant, that they should end up in the justice system,” McKinney said. “We should be doing more to focus on … those kids and their needs.”

Sen. Julie Slama of Peru opposed the bill. Excessive absenteeism often is the first sign that something is wrong with a young person, she said, so early intervention is important.

“We’re eliminating a great tool for the courts to step in and intervene in a juvenile’s life when they start skipping school but before their behaviors start escalating,” Slama said.

North Platte Sen. Mike Groene also opposed LB 568. He offered an amendment that would strike the bill’s original provisions. Instead, the amendment would alter existing law to allow more restrictions on juveniles participating in truancy diversion programs, including driving restrictions, mandatory drug testing, electronic tracking and monitoring.

The current truancy system works well, Groene said, and he argued that LB 568 would create more unneeded government bureaucracy.

The Groene amendment failed on an 18-14 vote. State senators then voted 25-19 to advance LB 568 to select file.

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