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After Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed LB998, a bill that would have placed a social worker in each ESU across the state, ESU 2 administrator Ted DeTurk’s initial reaction was disappointment.

In a text message to the Fremont Tribune, he said he felt “disappointment and concern about how we address this much-needed service.”

“Without addressing this need, education is negatively impacted,” DeTurk said.

Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, who introduced the bill, said she was “appalled” by the veto.

“We worked with behavioral and mental health experts, school administrators, teachers, social workers and concerned parents on LB998,” she said. “Our office received over a hundred letters of support. This is a program that was needed and well-supported.”

The bill passed in the legislature in a 31 to 15 vote, with three not voting.

Ricketts disagreed with the legislature, however. In an explanation of his veto, he didn’t necessarily disagree with the need for mental health resources in schools, calling the bill’s purpose “noble” but did not believe the bill was the best way to provide those resources.

He argued that “LB998 is not needed,” because under current laws, there is nothing stopping private foundations from donating funds to individual ESUs.

“Those entities would then have more discretion and flexibility to connect with existing state and community resources in their local areas to design locally-tailored programs,” he said, adding, “LB998 unnecessarily inserts the State between private funders and the political subdivision (the ESU Coordinating Council) receiving those donations.”

He feared that the bill would have “set a precedent for the state to assume the obligation of running a private grant program” and was “unclear about how parents and guardians would be involved in the consent and care of the student” if social workers were in the schools.

It was unclear at this point what, if anything, ESU 2 will do in place of the social worker that LB998 would have provided.

DeTurk had previously emphasized to the Fremont Tribune that, despite concerns about finding qualified social workers and the sustainability of the bill, which would be funded through private donations for three years, he supported it because it would help schools navigate mental health issues and resources more effectively.

“You’re asking a group of people, the teachers in general, who went to school to be educators and to focus on teaching and learning to now have an understanding of bipolar, to now have an understanding of depression,” DeTurk said in an interview earlier this month. “We don’t have that skill set. That’s why I think LB998 is so important, to be able to bring some experts in the field as a resource for us.”

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