State Legislature upholds sanctity of life
The conclusion of this year’s session of the 106th Nebraska Legislature May 31 saw critical victories for the sanctity of life and human dignity as well as for social and human development.
Among the hundreds of bills introduced and sponsored by the Legislature’s 49 state senators, four received strong support from the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), the public policy voice of the three Catholic dioceses in Nebraska.
The NCC advocated for LB209, a pro-life bill introduced by Sen. Joni Albrecht; LB519, an omnibus human trafficking victim support bill introduced by Sen. Julie Slama; LB670, a school choice bill introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, and a pro-life provision in LB294, a mainline budget bill. All positively reflected aspects of Catholic social teaching.
ABORTION PILL REVERSAL
LB209 added a new section to Nebraska’s informed consent law requiring abortion providers to inform women that it may be possible to reverse a medication abortion if they decide not to go through with the procedure. The bill also provides women considering abortion with information on contacting local medical professionals trained in abortion pill reversal.
It was passed May 30 upon final reading with a vote of 36-12 and signed into law by Gov. Pete Ricketts June 10. After making it out of the Judiciary Committee on April 23, LB209 was given three rounds of debate on the floor of the Legislature and was discussed for 10½ hours.
“You simply have to control the narrative,” Albrecht said. “It was challenging at times, but the 36 of us that felt it was the right thing to do simply had to continue and bring it across the finish line,” she said.
Every time this bill was brought up for debate, it was crucial to let fellow lawmakers know exactly what it was about; they needed to understand that it was simply a bill to help women have a second chance at choice, Albrecht said.
In Nebraska, 55% of abortions are now done chemically, by way of abortion-inducing drugs, so this legislation has the potential to save a lot of lives, said Marion Miner, associate director for pro-life and family for the NCC.
PROTECTING THE INNOCENT
New legal provisions were enacted to help victims of human trafficking, especially children, with the May 24 passage of LB519. The legislation, which was introduced by Sen. Julie Slama and amended to include LB516 and LB517, both introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, was passed upon final reading on a 46-0 vote and signed into law May 31.
LB519 extends the statute of limitations for those who traffic adults from three years to seven years and eliminates the statute of limitations for human trafficking of a child.
In addition, its LB516 and LB517 components “clearly outline the damages that a human trafficking victim could collect in a civil case and ensure that our children who are being trafficked aren’t being treated differently based on who their trafficker is,” Slama said.
“In Nebraska law, we had a loophole that treated kids differently based on whether they were being trafficked by their parents or by a boyfriend or sibling,” she said.
Prior to LB519, children who were trafficked by a parent or caregiver were identified as abused or neglected, and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services got involved, providing necessary services such as safe and appropriate shelter, food assistance, medical and mental health care, substance abuse services and education, said Tom Venzor, executive director of the NCC.
However, if a child was being trafficked by someone else, law enforcement officials were primarily responsible for meeting the victims’ needs, and they often lacked the support services and resources to do so, he said.
At 23, Slama is the third-youngest senator to serve in the Nebraska Legislature, and the bill’s passage was a major victory for her. “I absolutely believe that this is a big step forward to fight human trafficking in this state,” she said.
Human trafficking is a problem that will never go away and is widespread both in urban and rural areas of the state, she said.
OPPORTUNITY SCHOLARSHIPS ACT
Another bill championed by the NCC was LB670, the Opportunity Scholarships Act. This legislation would increase scholarship opportunities for low-income and working-class families by enacting a tax credit for donations to nonprofit, scholarship-granting organizations.
This was the second consecutive year that a scholarship tax credit bill advanced from its committee, Venzor said.
After it advanced from the Revenue Committee, LB670 was prioritized by its sponsor, Sen. Linehan, and received three hours of initial debate. At that point, Linehan and other co-sponsors needed to demonstrate they had 33 votes to overcome a potential filibuster.
They were unable to garner the required support, and further debate on the bill was postponed. Debate will resume when the Legislature reconvenes next January if supporters can come up with the necessary 33 votes.
TITLE X FUNDING
In this year’s state budget, which will cover two years, Gov. Pete Ricketts proposed a provision to regulate the Title X federal grant program, which funds contraception programs and other preventative health care services. Lawmakers ultimately did not adopt the provision.
The provision, implemented in last year’s state budget, would have distinguished between organizations that do and do not provide abortions as part of their services. Applicants would not have received Title X funds if they engaged in, assisted with, referred or counseled for abortions.
If a provider performed any of these activities, it would have to demonstrate adequate legal, financial and physical separation between its abortion-providing entity and its Title X-providing entity.
“In other words, it was creating accountability and transparency between the abortion services and Title X services,” Venzor said.
Chief among the organizations that refused to establish such separation was Planned Parenthood, which therefore could not receive Title X funding from the state. So instead of applying as a sub-grantee of the state of Nebraska, it applied directly for and was awarded a Title X grant from the federal government.
As a result, the state was no longer the grant recipient of these federal dollars and it no longer could control their distribution, Venzor said. This meant the state could make no additional restrictions to ensure that taxpayer dollars were not being used to subsidize the abortion industry, which made the Title X issue in the budget moot, he said.
LB294, the bill appropriating funds for Nebraska’s state government until June 2021, was passed May 21 on final reading with a 35-12 vote and was approved by Gov. Ricketts May 27. The final language did not include the governor’s provision.