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Patrick Slattery, archdiocese superintendent of Catholic schools, speaks May 23 at a news conference on the Nebraska Legislature’s Revenue Committee vote to advance a school-choice bill to possible floor debate in 2018. The bill is one of several backed by the Nebraska Catholic Conference that saw progress in this year’s legislative session.

Pro-life, school-choice bills highlight session

Nebraska Catholic Conference to bolster advocacy programs

The approval of two pro-life bills and a vote to move a school-choice-related bill out of committee made 2017 a successful year in the Nebraska Legislature.

That’s how Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) described the recently completed first session of the 105th Legislature.

The 5-3 vote to move LB295 (the Opportunity Scholarships Act) out of the Revenue Committee was "historic," Venzor said. The measure, eligible for floor debate in 2018, proposes state income tax credits for donations made to scholarship funds for students from low- and middle-income families.

Venzor said LB295 will be a focus this summer, as NCC staff members will take the message about the bill to Catholics and talk to state senators. Efforts will focus on how the bill will give the neediest families the option of school choice, he said. (See story below at right)

The approval of the two pro-life bills showed that the Legislature is willing to take the time and resources necessary to consider pro-life legislation, Venzor said.

LB46 provides for specialty "pro-life" license plates, while LB506 (the Compassion and Care for Medically Challenging Pregnancies Act) requires the state to make information about perinatal hospice and palliative care available to mothers expecting a child diagnosed with a potentially terminal fetal abnormality.

The license plate legislation was the first pro-life legislation passed since 2010 and a "significant moment and a symbolic victory," Venzor said.

Another bill passed with NCC support was LB289, which increased penalties for sex trafficking and related offenses. And a bill opposed by the NCC, LB173, was voted out of committee and will be eligible for debate next year. That bill would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The NCC opposes the bill because it would allow the government to coerce and punish differing beliefs on marriage, family and human sexuality, limiting religious liberty and rights of conscience.

In addition to efforts promoting the scholarship act, Venzor said the summer months will give the NCC staff a chance to work with Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas and Bishops James D. Conley of Lincoln and Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island in planning for next year and beyond. Topics will include research on possible pro-life legislation and proposals related to marriage, education and poverty, he said.

They also will work to bolster advocacy programs such as the Catholic Advocacy Network and parish pro-life coordinators, Venzor said.

"And we’ll stay in contact with senators, build relationships and look for ways we can advance the common good," he said.

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