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Education

Another day, another hearing

Before I jump into this week’s topic, I want to announce that Catholics at the Capitol will be virtual this year. Rather than a one-day, in-person event, we will do three events over a three-week period to provide more opportunity for a variety of attendees.

The events will take place March 9 (12-1:30 p.m.), March 16 (7:30-9 p.m.), and March 23 (12-1:30 p.m.). The events will feature, among others, Archbishop Lucas, Bishop Conley, Speaker Mike Hilgers, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, Sen. Mike McDonnell, and Nikki Shasserre. We will cover topics like what it means to be a faithful citizen, legislative process and advocacy, and major legislative priority bills. Visit www.necatholic.org to register for these virtual events.

The State Legislature has been in all-day committee hearings for a month now, quickly moving through the 700-plus legislative bills and constitutional amendment resolutions introduced during the first 10 days of the session.

To provide another snapshot the NCC’s daily activities, I’d like to highlight last week’s legislation we lobbied during the committee hearing process. The issues ran the spectrum of Catholic social teaching.

Marion Miner, our Associate Director of Pro-Life & Family Policy, opposed LB67 introduced by Sen. Jen Day (Western Sarpy County). This legislation would allow school-based health centers to counsel, prescribe, and/or dispense contraception to children at school. The bill would also force school-based health centers to offer contraception to children without informing parents or obtaining their consent. LB67 perpetuates the unfounded myth that greater access to contraception reduces the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. In short, the legislation would sell a bill of lies regarding human sexuality to Nebraska’s public school children, all the while undermining parental rights.

Marion also opposed LB183 introduced by Sen. Megan Hunt (Omaha). This legislation would require all hospitals—including Catholic hospitals—to provide emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault. Marion carefully articulated the ethical principles for when emergency contraception may be given to a victim of rape which would act as a self-defense against impregnation by the rapist, and when emergency contraception may not be given to a victim of rape because it would act in an immoral fashion as an “interceptive” or “abortifacient” drug and kill the life of a newly conceived unborn human life. Marion underscored the compassion and skilled medical care hospitals should provide victims of sexual assault, but that hospitals should not be forced to participate in abortions and violate their ethical and/or religious beliefs.

I supported two bills related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the food stamps program). LB108, introduced by Sen. John McCollister (Omaha), would raise the income eligibility guidelines to allow more low-income families to access much needed food assistance. LB121, introduced by Sen. Hunt, would eliminate unfair restrictions on former drug felons’ access to food assistance. This access to basic food needs serves as an important reintegration and restoration into society.

I also supported LB34, introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks (Lincoln), which would prohibit the use of the death penalty against a person who committed an otherwise capital offense while under the age of 21. LB34 marks an small, but important step in recognizing the basic injustice of utilizing the death penalty against teenagers and those in their early young adult years and recognizing the need for more restorative and rehabilitative justice practices for these young people who have committed heinous crimes.

I also supported LB167, introduced by Sen. Tom Briese (Albion), which would provide limited and reasonable liability protection for businesses and non-profit institutions who have been following COVID health and safety standards. As our parishes, schools, and social service agencies work hard to keep our doors open in a manner consistent with local, state, and national health guidance and directives, it is important to protect these institutions from frivolous lawsuits while also retaining a way for legitimate lawsuits where serious injury has occurred.

Jeremy Ekeler, our Associate Director of Education Policy, testified in support of a provision in our state budget (LB380) which would provide an additional $1 million per year in spending for our state’s textbook loan program. This program provides non-public school students access to textbooks they would otherwise have accessed at their local public school. This program’s funding has remained stagnant for the last 15 years at around $450,000 funding per year. This equates to a mere $14 per student for textbooks. Already, non-public school students save the state around $500 million per year, and this program would provide a small amount of equity for families who not only pay private school tuition but also pay taxes for the public school system.

As hearings continue to pile up, find more information about our advocacy through our  Legislative Bill Tracker at www.necatholic.org.

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