Nebraska Catholic Conference sees progress this legislative term

Nearly a month still remains in this session of the state Legislature, but the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) already has seen several victories for pro-life issues, health care, human dignity and religious freedom.

"The bills we have concentrated most on these past few months have ended in our favor," said Tom Venzor, executive director of the NCC, which represents the public policy interests of Nebraska’s three bishops.

"We are thankful for all of the participation and excitement from the Archdiocese of Omaha, the Diocese of Lincoln and the Diocese of Grand Island," he said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts has signed into law three bills backed by the NCC, including LB46, which requires the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles to produce special "Choose Life" license plates, and LB62, eliminating a nearly century-old prohibition on teachers wearing religious garb, protecting the religious liberty of public school teachers.

The governor also signed LB506, the Compassion and Care for Medically Challenging Pregnancies Act. The law requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to make information about perinatal hospice and palliative care services and other support available to mothers expecting a child diagnosed with potentially lethal fetal abnormalities.

"Women and families dealing with pregnancy or infant loss deserve compassionate care and support," Ricketts said. "This pro-life, pro-woman and pro-family legislation affirms that no matter how short, every human life has value and meaning."

Jeff Kanger, NCC associate director for pro-life and family said, "The information and awareness this bill will bring helps offer parents and children the best possible care, quality of life, and healing amid great heartbreak."

The law holds personal significance for Jeanna and Robert Faulhaber, members of St. Bernard Parish in Omaha, who testified on behalf of the bill Feb. 10 and attended the bill signing.

Their daughter, Bernadette, was stillborn June 3, 2014, due to a defect called Trisomy 18, which causes various abnormalities, including heart defects.

"It was a very heartwarming moment for us to be there and to share in this journey with other families who experience similar loss, and to know that our story helped change the history of future families who will be faced with a similar diagnosis," Jeanna said.

With the legislative session expected to end June 2, the NCC is continuing to monitor several bills, including:

LB173, opposed by the conference, failed to advance out of the first of three rounds of debate. The bill’s stated goal of prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity would allow the government to coerce and punish differing beliefs on marriage, family and human sexuality, damaging religious liberty and rights of conscience.

LB289, backed by the NCC, passed the first round of debate. It would change provisions and penalties related to pandering and human, labor and sex trafficking, and prohibit solicitation of a trafficking victim, increasing criminal penalties for those involved in human trafficking and seeking protection for human trafficking victims.

LB450, opposed by the NCC and not voted out of committee, would have legalized doctor-prescribed suicide for terminally ill patients.

Work continues in support of LB295, the Opportunity Scholarships Act, Venzor said. The bill would create scholarship opportunities for low- and middle-income students to attend the parochial or private school of their choice. NCC is working with the Revenue Committee to advance the bill to the floor of the Legislature, he said.

And LB529, which would expand the ability of minors who have been refused parental consent, and others deemed incapacitated and appointed a guardian, to obtain an abortion through a judicial bypass, is opposed by the NCC and has not advanced out of committee.

"While we are approaching the end of this session, we still have these and a few other issues to keep our eyes on," Venzor said. "And we will be looking to all of our Catholic warriors and advocates to help speak up and stand up for the church in Nebraska."

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