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State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn discusses legislation as Tom Venzor (standing), executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, and others listen Feb. 15 at the state Capitol as part of Catholics at the Capitol.

Big week ahead for scholarship bill

The week of March 5 is important for backers of LB295, the Opportunity Scholarships Act.
For the first time in more than two decades, the bill designed to provide scholarships to low- and middle-income families who want to send their children to Catholic or other private schools – or any school choice bill like it – will be considered by the full Legislature.
The Revenue Committee advanced LB295 to the full Legislature last year, and this year Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn prioritized the proposal, ensuring its consideration. Lawmakers must vote to approve the bill in each of three stages of debate before it can arrive at Gov. Pete Ricketts’ desk for his signature. Ricketts has expressed support for school choice.
With the week of March 5 set for debate on the bill, the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) is asking people to contact their state senators and urge them to support the bill, which would give tax credits to individuals and businesses for donations to nonprofit, scholarship-granting organizations, said Lauren Garcia, NCC communications and outreach specialist. 
“Your senators want and need to hear from you!” said Tom Venzor, NCC executive director, in an email Feb. 26 to people receiving the conference’s online information service, the Catholic Advocacy Network of Nebraska. A direct link to senators’ emails and more information about LB295 and other bills is available at the
conference’s website, 
Linehan said that as the Legislature debates LB295, it is “faced with the opportunity to change the lives of so many poor and working-class children in Nebraska.  Tax-credit scholarships … will help give more parents the chance to choose a school that best meets their children’s unique needs. If you believe in helping the least among us and giving kids a fighting chance in their education, I urge you to engage your senators on this important issue,” she said. 
LB295 is not the only legislation the NCC is backing or keeping an eye on, and about 125 people came to Lincoln Feb. 15 for Catholics at the Capitol, a day of prayer, information and lobbying. The event included keynote speeches by Ricketts and Father Justin Fulton of the Lincoln diocese, legislative updates by NCC staff members and others, and opportunities to watch the Legislature in action and meet with state senators.
“It was a very engaging day,” Venzor said. “We had great turnout from lots of solid Catholics. I’m certain the voice of Catholics was heard that day.”
Among issues they discussed was Ricketts’ proposal to eliminate federal Title X funding for organizations offering abortion services.
Offered as part of the governor’s overall budget and likely to be debated in mid-March, the proposal would make certain that Title X providers of medical services such as well-woman exams, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and vaccinations are legally, physically and financially separate from organizations that support abortion, Venzor said.
While federal law already prohibits using Title X funds for abortion-related services, an audit showed Planned Parenthood used Title X funds in 2015 for such services – a mixing of funds the proposal would correct, Venzor said. 
Several other bills the NCC supports:
LB1132 sets aside criminal convictions for drugs, theft, prostitution and other crimes if the crimes were committed when the person was a victim of human trafficking.
LB1082 requires law enforcement agencies that enter into an immigration enforcement agreement with the federal government to notify the local governing body and provide for a public hearing about the agreement.
LB1040 extends birth certificates for nonviable pregnancies to any pregnancy prior to 20 weeks.
LB747 creates regulatory oversight of so-called “bottle clubs,” which allow members to bring their own alcohol in exchange for a fee or other consideration, such as food sales and entertainment.
Bills it opposes:
LB891 prohibits psychologists from discriminating against patients based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in effect violating mental health professionals’ judgment and faith-based convictions.
LB120 expands taxpayer-funded and government-provided contraception to low-income women and men. 
LB450 legalizes doctor-prescribed suicide for terminally ill patients.
LB726 requires insurance plans to provide coverage for in-vitro fertilization under certain conditions.

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