It seems like just yesterday that senators were returning to the Norris Chamber in the State Capitol for the first day of the legislative session. And here we are now: over one-quarter of the way through the 2024 legislative session. Before you know it, senators will be exiting the Norris Chamber to return home.
In this first quarter, we have completed bill introduction. Just shy of 600 legislative bills were introduced. This is in addition to the 820 bills that were introduced last year. Many of these “carryover” bills from last year are still active for passage this year.
We have also begun committee hearings. Starting Jan. 22 and running through Feb. 29, senators will spend their afternoons—and, oftentimes, their evenings—in committee hearings. In Nebraska, every introduced bill receives a public hearing. This allows Nebraskans a significant chance to engage in the legislative process. Throughout the committee hearing process, the Nebraska Catholic Conference will regularly show up to testify in support of or in opposition to legislation.
All that said, what have been some of the highlights or lowlights of the end of the bill introduction period?
On the pro-life front, there is a real lowlight. Sen. Merv Riepe (Ralston) introduced legislation (LB1109) to expand abortions. His legislation removes criminal penalties for unlawfully performed abortions. More devastatingly, LB1109 provides an exception to allow abortions for “fatal fetal anomalies” up until the point of birth. This legislation is a serious attack on human dignity. Doctors should not “play God” and decide which lives are worthy of life, and which lives should be aborted.
A society—and our own eternal souls—will be judged on how we treat “the least of these” among us. And there are no more vulnerable people in this world than preborn babies who experience severe disabilities or other complications in the womb.
But, this is no reason to despair. There are other important pro-life policies out there.
Last year, Sen. Joni Albrecht introduced legislation (LB606) to provide tax credits to taxpayers who send a portion of their state income tax liability to pregnancy help organizations (PHOs). PHOs are the backbone of our pro-life movement. They walk with mothers in need throughout pregnancy and beyond. They provide a range of services to moms and babies, everything from the basics of diapers and formula to full scale prenatal services, educational assistance, mentoring, and housing. It’s incredible what they do, and the state should do everything it can to provide incentives to support entities like our PHOs.
We have also seen important legislative proposals that will help mothers both at their prenatal and postnatal stages. Sen. George Dungan has introduced legislation (LB857) to provide increased health care services for mothers who are at risk of having a newborn with low birth weight. This legislation ensures that Nebraska babies are taken care of and moms are receiving the critical health care they need to have a healthy and safe pregnancy.
On the school choice front, three important bills were introduced. Two of those bills were introduced by school choice champion, Senator Lou Ann Linehan. One of her bills (LB1403) makes some important changes to the current Opportunity Scholarships Act law. After seeing the program in legal effect for the last several months, there are already tweaks the law could receive to make it more effective at getting kids in need a scholarship.
Her other bill (LB1402) provides $25 million to the state treasurer, who would then provide grants to scholarship granting organizations for the distribution of scholarships to eligible students, such as children who are low-to-middle income, as well as children who have special needs, have experienced bullying, or are from military families.
Another important school choice bill has been brought by Sen. Ben Hansen (LB1386). This legislation is very simple: it provides $1,500 for every student enrolled in a non-public school for the purposes of tuition or other educational services. The main point behind the bill is fairness and equity. Last year, Nebraska started providing “foundation aid” for every public school student across the state. Non-public school families (who are also taxpayers) deserve that same treatment.
As the legislative session progresses, we will continue to give you updates on critical pieces of legislative policy, as well as call you to action. Stay tuned for more—and God bless your work of bearing the light of Christ in the public square!