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More than 160 Nebraskans attend Catholics at the Capitol

More than 160 Catholics – about twice as many as last year – came together to learn about legislation and lobby their representatives March 21 at the third annual Catholics at the Capitol in Lincoln.

"I think the turnout reflects a general desire to be more active and engaged," said Tom Venzor, executive director of the event’s sponsor, the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), which represents the public policy interests of the state’s three bishops.

"People are becoming more deeply aware of their duty and responsibility as Catholics to take part in the political process," Venzor said.

Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island opened the event at St. Mary Church, across from the state Capitol, with an address stressing the importance of Catholics participating in politics. Lt. Gov. Mike Foley and former state Sen. Tony Fulton "both gave a tremendous picture of what Catholics can do to stay engaged" and encouraged people to not be afraid to reach out to their state senators and make their voices heard, Venzor said.

And NCC officials gave an overview of several bills the Legislature is considering, including recently-approved pro-life license plates, and making information about perinatal hospice care available to parents struggling with medically challenging pregnancies.

The group also met with representatives at the Capitol. While together in the gallery of the legislative chamber, they were recognized by the Legislature, Venzor said.

"It was amazing to watch 160-plus people engaging with their senators individually and in small groups," he said. "A lot of them seemed to feel empowered and much more comfortable with the political process."

"I think individuals are seeing opportunities for great wins, progress and hope in areas such as pro-life, marriage, family and assisting the poor," Venzor said. "They see an opportunity to make a change and move things forward for the common good."

Bills, new laws to watch

The Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) is monitoring progress on several bills, including:

LB46 – Choose Life license plates. Backed by the NCC, passed all three rounds of debate, filibuster attempts and opposition from pro-choice advocates. Gov. Pete Ricketts expected to sign the bill into law.

LB62 – Eliminates prohibition on teachers wearing religious garb in public schools. Backed by the NCC, Ricketts signed into law March 27. (See story below.)

LB173 – Designed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, opposed by the NCC as forcing employers to affirm sexual conduct they believe is immoral. Scheduled for debate this month.

LB295 – Scholarship tax credits for donations to organizations that help low- to middle-income families send their children to private and parochial schools. Backed by the NCC, still in committee, has not been prioritized. NCC officials encourage constituents to call senators on the Revenue Committee and urge their support.

LB450 – Doctor prescribed suicide. Opposed by the NCC, still in committee, has not been prioritized. Could be voted on at any time this year or next.

LB506 – Compassion and care for medically challenging pregnancies. Backed by the NCC. Expected to pass and be signed into law.

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