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The power of one senator

Faithful, Watchful Citizens
On Feb. 5, the state Legislature’s Appropriations Committee held a public hearing on pro-life language in Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposed budget. The public hearing was a study in contrast between Planned Parenthood supporters and taxpayers who refuse to have their tax dollars given to entities that engage in abortion.
 
The public hearing also demonstrated the power of a single state senator to control the destiny of certain legislative efforts. The pro-life language in the proposed budget is no exception, and your action is needed.
 
BACKGROUND ON TITLE X
While I have written about the pro-life language in the budget, it is worth a brief refresher.
 
In this year’s proposed budget, the governor included strong pro-life language that provides certain conditions for receiving Title X funds. Title X is a federal grant program that provides preventive health services and family planning services. Title X includes important preventive health services such as annual well-woman exams, STD testing and treatment, and HPV testing and vaccinations. However, Title X also includes problematic services such as contraception. 
 
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services receives Title X grant funds from the federal government. The funds then “pass through” to a variety of grantee organizations. Over $1.5 million are distributed to these organizations. The leading recipient is Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which receives nearly $300,000 per year.
 
Ricketts’ proposal requires that Title X service providers keep their Title X services separate from the abortion industry.
 
During the public hearing, official state audits were discussed. These audits demonstrated that Planned Parenthood used Title X funds for abortion-related services, even though this is strictly prohibited by federal law. This should trouble anybody interested in basic accountability of government funds. This should also be appalling to anybody who believes that tax dollars should not subsidize the intentional killing of unborn human life. The state auditor, Charlie Janssen, admitted in a separate hearing that this commingling of funds put the entire Title X program “at risk” in Nebraska.
 
LEGISLATIVE PROCESS
Every legislative effort that is introduced in the state Legislature gets a public hearing. These public hearings occur at the committee level. There are 14 standing committees in the state Legislature, which cover certain subject matters (for example, revenue, agriculture and banking). Each committee consists of a certain number of senators, ranging from seven to nine members.
 
Each committee initially oversees certain legislative bills. After a public hearing, the committee decides whether to advance certain legislation to the whole legislative body for debate. A simple majority can advance a legislative bill from committee. For example, in the Appropriations Committee, it takes five votes for a specific provision to be adopted into the budget, which is proposed to the whole legislative body.
 
POWER OF ONE SENATOR
Legislation often fails to advance from committee due to lack of support. Sometimes the legislation fails to garner any or little support at the committee level, and sometimes legislation fails to advance because of just one vote. This latter example clearly demonstrates the influence and power one senator may have over the destiny of legislative efforts.
 
For years now, pro-life efforts have stalled out in the Judiciary Committee, which has been antagonistic to pro-life efforts. But the budget effort has landed in the Appropriations Committee, which is now faced with the opportunity to advance critical pro-life language.
 
Currently, there are four solid pro-life votes on this committee: Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse, Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, Sen. Bob Clements of Elmwood and Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha. But the provision needs five votes to advance. This means at least one senator will play a critical role in the destiny of the pro-life Title X language. 
 
Please encourage these senators to support the Title X language in the budget as is: Sen. Bob Hilkemann of Omaha (rhilkemann@leg.ne.gov; 402-471-2621), Sen. John Stinner of Scottsbluff (jstinner@leg.ne.gov; 402-471-2802), and Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln (kbolz@leg.ne.gov; 402-471-2734).
 
Remember, when senators sit on a committee, they act on behalf of the entire state. Even if you are not their constituent, you can call or email them. Encourage them to support the Title X language in the budget and remind them that we are a pro-life state. This language has the power to save lives! Thanks for your efforts!
 
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at tvenzor@necatholic.org.

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