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New bill would require Nebraska students to pass civics test to graduate from high school

New bill would require Nebraska students to pass civics test to graduate from high school

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LINCOLN — Quick, how many amendments does the U.S. Constitution have?

What is the economic system in the United States? Who is the commander in chief of the military?

What is the name of the speaker of the House of Representatives? Why does the flag have 50 stars?

Stumped? You’re not alone.

Whether it’s in formal studies or man-on-the-street interviews by late-night television hosts, large numbers of Americans can’t answer basic questions about their government and how it operates.

State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, a military veteran, wants to change that situation in Nebraska.

He introduced a bill Monday that would require Nebraska students to pass an American civics test before they could graduate from high school.

Legislative Bill 868 would require that students be tested using questions drawn from the naturalization test given to people seeking citizenship in the United States.

Students would have to correctly answer at least 70 percent of the questions before they could graduate.

But they would be allowed to take the test multiple times, starting in ninth grade. The requirement would begin for students graduating during the 2019-20 school year.

Krist said the proposal is part of a national Civics Education Initiative, launched by the Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute.

The initiative’s goal is to get similar legislation passed in all 50 states by the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution in September 2017.

Nine states have passed the legislation so far, according to the Joe Foss Institute — Arizona, Utah, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana and Wisconsin.

Legislation was introduced in Iowa last year. But the bill was scrapped amid concerns it would duplicate an existing requirement for students to take a government course to graduate.

Lawmakers also raised concerns that it would be an unfunded mandate for schools.

Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha, a former high school principal, had some of the same concerns about LB 868.

Nebraska students now have to take an American government class to graduate, he said. He questioned whether the proposed test would be redundant and who would pick up the costs.

This fall, a trio of Elm Creek students tried the proposed test on some 200 juniors and seniors. Freshmen Audrey Worthing, Sydney Hubbard and Anna Hoffman found that 83 percent of those tested could not pass.

Would-be U.S. citizens have to answer 60 percent of the questions correctly. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 92 percent of them do, at least after studying the issues.

(Here are the answers to the questions posed earlier: 27 amendments, capitalist or market economy, the president, Speaker Paul Ryan, a star for each of the 50 states.)

Among other bills introduced Monday:

» Longevity raises for state workers. All state employees would receive automatic pay bumps for job loyalty under LB 896, introduced by Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln. The raises would start at 6¼ cents per hour on the fifth anniversary and would increase by 6¼ cents on each subsequent five-year anniversary.

» University building funds. The state would double to $22 million the amount it spends annually to help the University of Nebraska renovate and replace aging buildings under LB 858, introduced by Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley of Kearney. The annual appropriations would be made through the middle of 2029 for a total of $242 million, which would be matched by NU using revenue from a 1 percent tuition increase.

» Presidential primary. Sen. John Murante of Gretna wants Nebraska to gain relevance during presidential primary season. His LB 871 would require the state to hold presidential primary elections in early March instead of May, when, in most years, the primary winners have already been decided.

» Elect judges. Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins sponsored Legislative Resolution 398 CA, a proposal to amend the Nebraska Constitution and allow election of judges. Under Nebraska’s merit system, a judicial nominating commission selects several finalists for a vacancy and the governor makes the appointment.

» Incentive for volunteer emergency responders. Volunteer firefighters and rescue crew members could qualify for a $250 annual credit against what they owe in state income taxes under LB 886, introduced by Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis.

» School readiness tax credit. LB 889, introduced by Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, seeks to address the high cost of child care while improving access to early childhood programs during a child’s first five years. The bill would provide tax breaks to parents, early childhood programs, early childhood workers and businesses that support and employ families of preschool children.

» Motorcycle helmets optional. Bloomfield will make his annual attempt to repeal Nebraska’s mandatory helmet law with LB 900. The bill also proposes creating a trust fund for motorcycle safety and brain injury by charging an additional $19 for motorcycle registration.

» Juvenile justice. Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks introduced two bills aimed at improving juvenile court outcomes in Nebraska. LB 893 would exempt children under the age of 11 from criminal prosecution. LB 894 would provide for court-appointed attorneys for children in juvenile court.

World-Herald staff writer Joe Duggan contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9583,

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