Legislative Update

The legislative halfway mark

By Tom Venzor

Join us for Catholics at the Capitol (Wednesday, March 27). Our annual advocacy day gives Catholics the opportunity to engage in the legislative process and advocate on important public policy. The morning program, held at St. Mary Church (14th & K), will include Mass, an educational program to learn about legislative issues, and advocacy with your state senator. There will also be an optional lunch ($10) program at the Newman Center (transportation provided), featuring several state senators and their experience of faith and politics. Invite family and friends. Visit www.necatholic.org for more details and registration information.

March 20 marked the halfway point of this year’s 90-day legislative session. Day 1 of the session seems like ages ago and Day 90 is hardly visible on the horizon.

The first half has been consumed by bill introductions, committee hearings, and floor debate on numerous bills (75 of which have been signed into law). The second half will be spent on the final days of committee hearings and a turn toward all-day floor debate on legislative priority bills and the state’s two-year budget. The days ahead will be exciting and filled with difficult decisions for our state lawmakers.

During legislative session, my column typically features the NCC’s key legislative priorities (e.g., scholarship tax credits, abortion pill reversal). But this column will be the first in a series featuring some other legislative issues that do not receive the same attention as our priority issues. The series will cover our four major areas of advocacy: life and human dignity; marriage and family; education; and social and human development.

Inconveniently, this series will be scattered throughout the remainder of the legislative session. If you are interested in reviewing all our legislative advocacy efforts, view our online “Legislative Bill Tracker” at www.necatholic.org.

Life & Human Dignity. This legislative session has witnessed an influx of legislative bills seeking to directly attack the life of unborn children, which the NCC has opposed.

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha has brought the bulk of these bills attacking unborn human life. LB503 eliminates the requirement that an abortionist be physically present with the mother when the abortionist is performing the abortion. The legislation is a direct attempt to expand “webcam” abortions and, thereby, increase access to the abortion pill, which already accounts for 55% of Nebraska’s abortions.

LB555 requires hospitals to dispense emergency contraceptives to female victims of sexual assault. The Church’s moral teaching recognizes that a “female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault… if there is no evidence that conception has already occurred.” This principle allows a female victim to be treated with “medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization[,]” but would prohibit “treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum [i.e., a human being at her earliest stage of development].”

LB555 would require emergency contraceptive to be dispensed after conception/fertilization, thereby constituting abortion-inducing drugs. A hospital’s refusal to take the life of an unborn child would result in severe punishments, including hospital licensure revocation.

The legislative session has also included legislative bills that affirm the dignity of motherhood and the unborn child, which the NCC has supported.

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue introduced LB13 which creates a sales and use tax exemption for breast pumps intended for home use, breast pump collection and storage supplies, and breast pads. This legislation sends an important message about the unique role of motherhood in the health and wellbeing of her child.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha introduced LB690 which prohibits the shackling of incarcerated mothers during pregnancy, labor and delivery, or postpartum recovery. This ensures a legal standard that upholds the inviolate dignity of the mother and her unborn child.

Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Omaha introduced LB141 which enhances the criminal penalties for a person who strangles or suffocates a pregnant mother. In addition to recognizing the vulnerable and precarious situation of the pregnant mother, this legislation recognizes the need to heighten penalties because not one but two lives are at stake. Such legislation is consistent with other Nebraska laws which recognize the life of the unborn child, such as our fetal homicide laws and laws against assault of an unborn child.

In addition to these bills, we have reviewed numerous legislative bills to ensure that they do not undermine the dignity of a human in its final stages by implicitly permitting or endorsing assisted suicide or euthanasia or any other forms of immoral healthcare decision-making.

As always, the Gospel of Life requires prayerful vigilance to ensure that human life is not treated as disposable, but is treated with the supreme dignity with which God created human life!

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