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History Nebraska bill advanced to final round

A state agency with a recent history of controversy would be placed under the direct authority of the governor under a bill amended and advanced from select file March 25.

Under LB1169, introduced by Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman, the Nebraska State Historical Society — commonly known as History Nebraska — would become a code agency under Nebraska state law. Code agency directors are appointed by the governor with legislative approval and report directly to the governor.

History Nebraska has been a noncode agency since 1994 and is governed by a board of 15 trustees, three of whom are appointed by the governor. The remaining trustees are elected by History Nebraska members in each of the state’s three congressional districts. The director is appointed by the board of trustees.

The bill also would remove administrative duties from the trustees and instead give them an advisory role to the director.

Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad echoed concerns about LB1169 that she expressed during the first round of debate. She said some of the state’s most troubled entities are code agencies and that changing the status of History Nebraska is the “wrong remedy” to address the agency’s problematic recent history.

In addition, Conrad said, placing the director under the governor carries a danger of having the agency’s work become an extension of the political beliefs of whomever appoints them.

She offered an amendment that would require the agency director to ensure that the study and presentation of exhibits and other material is conducted in a way that “stimulates, encourages and protects” freedom of expression and academic freedom.

Conrad said the amendment mirrors language in state law that governs the Nebraska Arts Council and would place “guardrails” around the work of History Nebraska.

“I do think that this makes the bill better and will … make sure that their important work continues without political interference,” Conrad said. “We need to keep the focus on the mission.”

Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh supported the amendment. She noted what she described as lawmakers’ failure to thoroughly vet the governor’s appointee to lead the state Department of Health and Human Services — whose appointment was approved earlier in the day — and expressed concern that the same might happen with the future leader of History Nebraska.

Following the 35-0 adoption of the Conrad amendment, senators voted 31-0 to advance LB1169 to final reading.

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