Nebraska lawmaker thinks medication abortion bill will survive filibuster

LINCOLN — Legislation aimed at helping women who change their minds halfway through a medication abortion stalled Monday in the face of a filibuster.

But State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, who introduced Legislative Bill 209, expressed confidence that she has enough votes to cut off the extended debate and advance the bill.

“Possibly four or five more” votes than the 33 needed, she said.

Albrecht’s proposal is this year’s top priority for abortion opponents. Similar measures have been passed in at least eight other states, she said.

Supporters argued that LB 209 could save lives and offer hope to women who don’t want to go through with a medication abortion.

“We’re giving women a second choice to think about what they just did,” said Sen. John Lowe of Kearney. “We’re also giving a second choice to a little baby.”

But opponents said the bill offers false hope to women and represents government interference with the doctor-patient relationship.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said informed consent is important in health care, but “these are attempts to shame women.”

As introduced, LB 209 would have required that women getting medication-induced abortions be told that the process may be reversed if they seek treatment quickly.

As amended by the Judiciary Committee, the measure no longer includes language about reversing abortion. Instead, it would require that women be told that mifepristone, the first drug of a medication abortion, may not end a pregnancy and that it may not be too late to continue their pregnancy.

Both versions of the bill would refer women to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services website for help finding treatment.

Albrecht said she introduced the bill to give women hope and “another chance to choose life.”

She pointed to evidence showing that it may be possible to continue a pregnancy if a woman gets high doses of progesterone within 72 hours of taking mifepristone, the first abortion drug, and if she has not taken misoprostol, the second drug.

But opponents of LB 209 said the evidence comes from cases reported by a California doctor in 2018, not from rigorous scientific studies.

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha questioned whether the progesterone treatment makes a difference for women who take it. She noted that pregnancy continues for up to 50% of women who take mifepristone alone.

She also said state law does not mandate what doctors tell patients about other health care procedures and should not be doing so for abortions.

Medication abortions can be done during the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy. Typically, women take the first medication in a clinic and are directed to take the second one at home, anywhere from 6 to 48 hours later.

More exemptions on the chopping block as Nebraska tax bill starts to take final shape

LINCOLN — Nebraskans may be digging a bit deeper when paying for things like auto repairs, haircuts and lawn mowing.

On Monday, a panel of state lawmakers adopted several amendments to their property tax relief proposal in hopes of making it more politically palatable and paring back a proposed ¾-cent increase in the state sales tax.

In three separate executive sessions during the day, the Legislature’s Revenue Committee fine-tuned a bill it hopes to advance to the full Legislature by Tuesday.

Most of the sessions focused, item by item, on several current sales tax exemptions that could be eliminated to bring in more revenue to offset property taxes. Most of the exemptions had been proposed this year in bills introduced by State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion.

Among the sales tax exemptions now targeted for repeal in Legislative Bill 289 are services performed by electricians on homes, hair care, tattoo parlors and nail salons. Costs of taxi and ride-sharing services would now be taxed, along with parking fees and lawn mowing bills. Taxing labor on motor vehicle repairs was also voted into LB 289.

Overall, about $99 million in new taxes were added to the bill Monday, covering about 20 consumer services. The goal was to pare back the bill’s proposed overall sales tax hike, from ¾ of a cent to ½ cent.

In a split vote, the tax exemption on admission to the Henry Doorly Zoo — which lawmakers had earlier this year labeled as nonsensical because admission to concerts is taxed — survived.

Whether LB 289 has enough support to advance from the Revenue Committee should be known Tuesday. Whether it can garner enough votes (33 of 49 senators) to head off an expected filibuster and survive a guaranteed veto from Gov. Pete Ricketts remains a major question mark.

“I think we’re really, really close,” said State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, who chairs the Revenue Committee.

LB 289, as now written, would impose about $372 million in new taxes that, along with the existing state property tax credit program, currently at $224 million, would provide a major boost in state aid sent to K-12 schools. Nebraska, which now ranks 47th in the nation in state aid to local schools, would vault to perhaps 20th, according to Linehan. Along with new taxing limits, Nebraska property owners would see an average 20% drop in their property taxes via the bill, the senator said.

New taxes would be imposed on pop, candy and bottled water, as well as services performed by plumbers, heating and air conditioning professionals and movers. Cigarette taxes would go up 64 cents a pack to $1 a pack.

Some major questions remain, including:

Does the property tax credit program continue, and at what level?

Two farmers on the Revenue Committee, Briese and Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, want the entire $224 million to continue to flow to farmers and homeowners, calling it guaranteed tax relief. But Linehan said Monday that the committee needs to use most, if not all, of that money for its state aid/tax shift plan. She said she hopes to reach a compromise with the two rural senators before another executive session Tuesday morning. The credit now provides $138 in credits for every $100,000 worth of farmland or ranchland, and $86 for every $100,000 in home or business value.

Nebraska lawmaker calls for action against white supremacy, white nationalism

White supremacy. State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha on Monday called on her legislative colleagues to take action against white supremacy and white nationalism in the wake of the shooting at a California synagogue.

Hunt pointed to several mass killings in the last year that involved people identifying as white supremacists and white nationalists. They included attacks on Jewish, Muslim and black Christian houses of worship.

“Legislators have got to stop seeing ourselves as separate from the problem,” she said. “We are witnesses, but we cannot also be bystanders.”

Hunt said she plans to introduce an anti-hate resolution similar to resolutions passed by the U.S. House and Senate last month.

Home-baked goods. Homemade food could be sold outside of farmers markets under Legislative Bill 304, which passed 40-0 on Monday.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue introduced the bill, which would expand the sales options for people making non-potentially hazardous foods at home. Current state law restricts sales of such food to farmers markets or charitable bake sales.

Under LB 304, home cooks would have to get food safety training, have private well water tested and register with the State Department of Agriculture. The goods would require a disclaimer that they were prepared in a noncommercial, unregulated kitchen.

Occupation tax reports. Nebraska towns and cities that impose occupation taxes would have to provide an annual report to the public under LB 445, which passed 42-0 on Monday.

The measure, introduced by Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha, would require the reports to list all occupational taxes, the amount of money they generate, what the money is used for and whether they have expiration dates.

Occupation taxes are levied on various types of businesses. The most common ones in Nebraska are on hotel operators, car rental companies, telecommunications providers, restaurants and bars.

Cash reserve. Nebraska could build up its cash reserve a little more quickly under LB 638, which passed on a 45-0 vote Monday. The bill was introduced by Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the Appropriations Committee chairman.

It would increase the number of years in which a portion of tax revenues would be transferred automatically to the cash reserve, also known as the state’s “rainy day fund.” The bill would reduce transfers if the reserve reaches 16% of annual state spending. The fund is currently at about 7% of annual state spending.

Missing Native American women. The documentary film “Highway of Tears” will be shown Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Omaha’s Film Streams Theater at 1340 Mike Fahey St. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on the problem of slain and missing Native American women and girls.

The intent of the showing is to raise awareness and promote services available to Native American survivors of violence. The Urban Indian Health Institute has found 506 unique cases in the U.S. and ranks Nebraska seventh-highest among the states in the number of cases.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a bill introduced by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon to require the Nebraska State Patrol and the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs to conduct a study on how many Native American women have gone missing. The study would also look at the law enforcement resources available to investigate those cases and protect women.

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