The main event the last two weeks at the Nebraska Legislature has mostly consisted of legislative hearings. We have testified in support and opposition of numerous pieces of legislation on varying topics, which I would like to review with you. But before we jump into that, let me update you on a few other things.
First, last week, the Unicameral passed its first major piece of legislation through the first round of debate. The legislation is LB77, which allows a person to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. This bill was introduced by Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon. It overcame a filibuster on a 36-10 vote, with three senators present not voting. The NCC does not have a position on this legislation.
Second, by the time you read this column, but after I write it, our major school choice legislation, the Opportunity Scholarships Act, will have gone through the first round of legislative debate. This bill would provide more scholarship opportunities to low-income children so they can attend the school that is best for them. I’m hoping that the good news is that LB753 advanced through the first round of debate, but I don’t have a time machine that would tell me that quite yet.
Third, our major pro-life legislation, the Nebraska Heartbeat Act (LB626), I’m sure will be debated soon. Go to www.NEcatholic.org/TakeAction and e-mail your senators, asking them to support LB626. Little preborn babies with heartbeats need our legal protection.
Finally, Catholics at the Capitol is Wednesday, April 12, in Lincoln. This is your chance to be more deeply educated on legislation that matters to us as Catholics and advocate with your state senator. Register at www.NEcatholic.org.
Now on to our legislative smorgasbord!
This last week, we saw a slew of LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Ally, Plus) -related legislative bills, which we opposed. There was legislation to remove the terms “husband” and “wife” from state statute. There was a constitutional amendment proposal to remove the recognition of marriage as between one man and one woman from our state constitution. There was legislation that would punish individuals, business owners, and religious organizations for holding onto the traditional (and correct) views of marriage and human sexuality, by punishing them with non-discrimination laws. (These are the types of laws that have been used to go after people like cake artist Jack Phillips and florist Baronelle Stutzman.)
We also saw legislation that amounts to counseling censorship and would prohibit a minor client from working through issues of same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria with their preferred counselor. This legislation would only allow counselors to be “neutral” or to affirm the minor child’s same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.
We also saw legislation attacking human life, which we opposed. This legislation would require hospitals to provide emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault. While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives allow for emergency contraception to prevent conception or fertilization of an ovum (because the rapist has no right to assault or impregnate the victim), the legislation does not protect life where conception has already taken place. Often times, emergency contraception can act as an abortifacient and take the life of an innocent human being, which is immoral and should not be mandated on hospitals subject to fines and other disciplines.
We supported legislation providing more school choice options for kids with special needs. In Nebraska, we have a program called option enrollment. Option enrollment allows a public school student to attend a different public school district, which is ultimately paid for by the state. However, children with special needs are almost always denied acceptance as an option enrollment student. Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair introduced legislation to provide those students with state funding to attend a school of their choice, to make sure they get the education they need, rather than be forced to return to a school district that was failing to properly serve them.
Along these lines, we supported legislation by Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, which would allow K-12 educational expenses as an eligible use of 529 savings accounts. Currently, these accounts can be used only for college savings purposes. This puts us out of alignment with federal law, which allows 529s to be used for K-12 expenses. It also puts us out of alignment with most other states in the country.
Last but not least, we supported legislation to maintain adequate access to food assistance for low-income families and to provide for community mental and behavioral health centers which would help increase mental health access for Nebraskans.
This is all to say that we’ve been “on our toes” at the Nebraska Catholic Conference by bearing the light of Christ in a lot of committee hearings, and now we’re moving that light into full force for legislative debate on major issues like school choice and protecting human life.
Please pray for us, and don’t forget to register for Catholics at the Capitol!