The 107th Nebraska Legislature, First Session, is off and running. The first four days of legislative session have been packed. Only 86 left to go.
On day one, the Legislature elected key leadership positions, like the Speaker of the Legislature and the various committee chairpersons.
The next three days were consumed with bill introductions. So far, there are 263 legislative bills and several substantive legislative resolutions seeking to amend the state constitution. In any given year, there are 500-600 legislative bills introduced, so we are a far way from being done, though it is anticipated with COVID that the number of legislative bills might be fewer than usual. While I won’t be holding my breath for a lower legislative bill count, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it happens.
As I’ve said various times in the past, I write this column at least a few days before you’ll receive it in the mail. This means the legislature will have, at least, completed its eighth day. Once bill introductions are completed on the 10th day, the legislature will commence with committee hearings on every single bill that was introduced.
Given all these bills, what’s a person to do? It’s not like you have time to read all these bills, let alone have an extensive understanding as to whether they are good or bad public policy for the state of Nebraska.
This is exactly where the Nebraska Catholic Conference steps in, so we can help you bear the Light of Christ in the public square.
The staff at the NCC reviews every single piece of legislation which is introduced. We look at all these bills and determine whether they pertain to our major subject matter areas of concern: life and human dignity; marriage and family; education; social and human development; and the church as an institution.
If a piece of legislation falls into any of those categories, we thoroughly analyze it and consult with our Bishops to determine whether it is legislation the NCC should support, oppose, or monitor for further development.
For example, we have seen legislation like LB167 introduced by Sen. Suzanne Geist (Lincoln), who introduced and successfully passed last session’s dismemberment abortion ban. Her legislation would ensure that churches and other houses of worship can operate during a public health emergency and would prohibit government from imposing any harsh and unjust restrictions on religious organizations. We think this legislation is a great idea as it protects and advances religious freedom while also ensuring that government can institute neutral and reasonable public health measures.
On the other hand, we have already seen legislation like Sen Carol Blood’s (Bellevue) LB20 which would require health insurance policies to mandatorily cover hormonal contraception. Sen. Megan Hunt (Omaha) has also introduced legislation (LB120, LB230) that advance so-called bans on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. These legislative attempts, among others, attempt to enshrine into law a false understanding of human sexuality and, in the process, trample on religious believers who hold to the traditional view of marriage and human sexuality.
We also see any number of bills that are intriguing, but for various reasons may not be a bill we decide to support or oppose. In which case, we watch how the legislation develops. Maybe the legislation is being introduced as a “conversation starter” to gauge interest in the idea. Maybe the legislation does not sufficiently pertain to one of the categories above, but if it were amended it might end up being of more interest.
As the legislative days ahead move forward, we will put our time and efforts into reviewing, analyzing, and working on issues that are important to the Catholic Church in Nebraska. But as we move ahead, our voice alone at the NCC will not be enough. It will be critical that your voice is added to the mix.
When I worked for a state senator before arriving at the NCC, she often talked about how the people of Nebraska are the “Second House” to the Nebraska Unicameral. By this, she meant that it is the work of the people of Nebraska to be a check and balance on the work of our state senators. This same natural call to political engagement is multiplied by your supernatural call to faithful citizenship.
If you want to learn more about the legislation that matters most to you as a Catholic, join our Catholic Advocacy Network at www.necatholic.org. As well, on our website, you’ll be able to find a “bill tracker” which will help you stay updated on all major legislation we are working on.
Thanks for bearing the Light of Christ in the public square!