NEBRASKA UNICAMERAL INFORMATION OFFICE

Commentary

Your legislative session in bite sizes

The 107th Legislature, Second Session, is moving at the speed of light, and there appears to be no letting up anytime soon. As with any “short” 60-day session, there are many events taking place simultaneously – bill introductions, bill analysis, floor debate, committee hearings, advocacy, negotiations. There is no shortage of excitement, even if there is a shortage of sleep for those closely working at and with the Unicameral. Given so many things taking place, I thought it’d be good to offer some bite-size samplings of what is taking place.

PRO-LIFE MASS AND NEBRASKA WALK FOR LIFE

For those reading this column prior to Saturday, Jan. 29, don’t forget to join the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) and Nebraska Right to Life as we, respectively, sponsor this year’s Pro-Life Mass and the Nebraska Walk for Life. They both take place in Lincoln. The Mass will be at 9 a.m. at St. Mary Church. The walk will start at 10 a.m. on the north steps of the State Capitol.

Join thousands of your closest pro-life friends and a number of Nebraska’s elected officials to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. We will mourn for the millions of preborn babies lost to abortion and the millions of mothers, fathers and other family members who have been negatively impacted by abortion. But as we “Walk” we will also look forward, in hope, for the end of Roe and the full protection of the preborn child and the unending love and care for mothers and fathers experiencing crisis pregnancies.

SCHOLARSHIP TAX CREDIT DEBATE

Last week, the Legislature debated, on first round debate, LB364, the Opportunity Scholarships Act. This legislation, championed by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, would give more low-income families access to scholarships for their children to attend private and parochial schools across Nebraska. This legislation has been a major priority for the NCC for years.

Like last year, the legislation fell just a handful of votes short of being able to overcome a filibuster by anti-school choice legislators. While LB364 failed, another version of the Opportunity Scholarships Act has been introduced for this session and there will be a continued effort to pass school choice in Nebraska yet this year.

Don’t forget: we are one of only two remaining states that has no form of school choice. Let’s overcome this basic injustice!

FIRST FREEDOM ACT HEARING

Last week, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee held a public hearing on LB774, the First Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer (who also serves as chairman of this same committee). LB774 is an important piece of religious liberty legislation, which is supported by the NCC, that would strengthen religious liberty protections in Nebraska.

In the early 90s, the U.S. Supreme Court negatively impacted First Amendment religious freedoms in its Employment Division v. Smith case. In that case, the Court held that a law that is neutral and of general applicability is not a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. This case undermined previous case law which stated that any law substantially burdening religious exercise can do so only if the government can prove it had a compelling interest in the regulation of religious exercise and was doing so in a narrowly tailored fashion.

If you’re wondering what all this legal jargon means in real life, imagine this hypothetical: The government establishes a law outlawing the sale and use of alcoholic wine. Such a law leaves Catholic parishes without access to wine for celebrating the Holy Mass.

In a post-Smith world, such a law, if it applied generally to everybody and was neutral and not specifically targeting religion, would be a constitutional burden on religious liberty. Prior to Smith, the government would have to show that it had a compelling reason to infringe on the use of wine at Mass and, if it could do so, then the government would have to do so in a narrowly tailored fashion. In short, such a burden on religious exercise wouldn’t survive in a pre-Smith world, but we don’t live in a pre-Smith world.

LB774 would re-establish the higher pre-Smith standard for Nebraska. Notably, this higher standard has been the federal law standard since 1993 when a bipartisan Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

CATHOLICS AT THE CAPITOL

Mark your calendars and prepare yourself to register for our annual Catholics at the Capitol. The event will take place on March 9 in Lincoln in the St. Mary Church basement from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will be a great opportunity to learn about this year’s major legislative efforts and to meet with your State Senator. You won’t want to miss it!

Continue to pray for our efforts at the NCC and pray daily for our elected officials!

Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at tvenzor@necatholic.org.