By Tom Venzor
Hands shot up by the dozens last week when Senator Steve Lathrop, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sought to determine how many people intended to testify in committee hearing on LB167, a controversial bill to ban conversion therapy for those experiencing same-sex attraction and gender identity issues. And while the in-person testimony of proponents and opponents lasted for over three hours, this was no comparison to the mass of letters and e-mails received by Chairman Lathrop to be entered into the public record—more than 1,000 letters of support and 1,500 letters of opposition.
Needless to say, advocates on both sides of the issue came out in droves and made their voices be heard. Merits of the issue aside, this was a stunning display of Nebraska’s “Second House” engaging their Unicameral. The process consisted of people, like you and me and our neighbors, stepping up and having a say in how legislation is crafted, understood, and acted on.
Many proponents provided heart-rending testimony of their experiences with same-sex attraction and gender identity issues, and the inability to find adequate treatment to address their issues. In many cases, the treatment they were given by professional counselors or spiritual leaders—such as electromagnetic shock therapy, shaming, and coercion—constituted activity that was acknowledged by various opponents as unacceptable, unethical, and dangerous. Other proponents, like professional counselors, presented arguments that conversion therapy has not been proven safe or effective.
Some opponents countered with personal stories of success, transformation, and hope. They shared accounts of receiving sound treatment and counsel to overcome experiences such as same-sex attraction and how they have been able to pursue healthy marriages, full of love and life-giving. Other opponents presented arguments about the legislation’s overreach, demonstrating that it goes beyond prohibiting harmful forms of therapy to undercutting the ability of people to seek the assistance they know they need and preventing the ability of counselors and others from providing wanted counsel—not to mention the various violations of the 1st Amendment Free Exercise Clause and the Free Speech Clause.
The conversation and debates on this legislation are likely far from over, as the Judiciary Committee is yet to take action on this legislation. But one thing is certain: Nebraskans provided a testament of what citizen-advocacy looks like. A testament that must continue not only on this piece of legislation, but other legislative bills yet to be debated.
In the coming weeks, state senators will be receiving public input through committee hearings on many other major issues facing our state.
Senators will hear testimony on Senator Lou Ann Linehan’s LB670, the Opportunity Scholarships Act, which would provide increased access to scholarship opportunities for low-income and working-class families looking for the best educational opportunity for their children.
Senators will hear several legislative bills about abortion. They will hear testimony on Senator Joni Albrecht’s LB209, the Abortion Pill Reversal Information Act. This legislation would provide mothers who have begun the abortion pill process a second chance at choosing life through the provision of information that can help them access the abortion pill reversal process. They will also hear legislation from Senator Megan Hunt that would eliminate the requirement that an abortionist must be present when they take the life of an unborn child (LB503) and that mandates that hospitals provide abortion-inducing emergency contraception to victims of sexual assaults (LB555).
Senators will also hear about efforts to repeal the death penalty (LB44), expand assistance and protections to victims of human trafficking (LB516, LB517, LB518, LB519), and require law enforcement to provide notice before entering into agreements to enforce federal immigration law (LB369).
Already, Senators have heard testimony on legislation to create a task force on soil and water conservation (LB243), provide increased tax benefits to low-income individuals and families (LB628), ensure more access to food assistance for former criminals reintegrating into society (LB169 and LB402), and give tax relief to mothers by exempting from sales tax breast pumps for in-home use (LB13).
To keep up on these legislative efforts and other issues of interest to Catholics, go to www.necatholic.org and find our “Legislative Bill Tracker.” While you visit, sign-up for our advocacy network to receive important updates and action alerts about bills that matter most to you and the Church in Nebraska.
These legislative bills and others merit your active engagement. As it is inscribed on the main entrance of the State Capitol: “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen.” And watchfulness is not a mere passive observation, it is an active state of engagement in the process, a lifting up of our hearts and voices and a striving after the common good. May the Holy Spirit guide our activities, providing us discernment, wisdom, courage, and, above all, charity along the way.