Wage discrimination bill advances; abortion proposals heard

Nebraska Legislature's Judiciary Committee hears proposed abortion restrictions (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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March 2, 2016 - 5:15pm

A proposal aimed at combating wage discrimination against women is advancing in the Nebraska Legislature. And proposals to restrict abortions and the use of fetal tissue received a public hearing.


The wage discrimination bill started out as a proposal by Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha to prohibit employers from discriminating against employees who voluntarily disclosed their wages. Advocates say that would cut down on wage discrimination in which women are paid 79 cents for every dollar earned by men for similar work. But in the face of objections by employers, the proposal was amended. In its current form, it would allow employees of companies with fewer than 15 employees who think they’ve been discriminated against to complain to the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission. Currently, they have to go the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said the bill would be an additional burden for small businesses, and addressed a problem that has largely, if not entirely, disappeared. "This is feel-good. Times have changed. It has been my experience we have changed. Generations have changed. What happened 20 years ago isn’t happening today," Groene said, while conceding that to some extent discrimination is "always going to happen, law or no law."

By contrast, Sen. Joni Craighead said she passionately supports the bill. "I grew up in a single parent family. My dad died when I was eight. My twin brothers were 7. My mom worked. Both of my brothers became psychiatrists. We didn’t have a lot of money, but everybody succeeded. I became a single parent when my daughter was 13 because my husband, Mike Craighead, died of an Agent Orange-related cancer," Craighead said. "Are you a woman? Are a single woman? Are you a single mom? If you are not, and if you have not walked in the shoes, then you’d better go find a few people in this state, in this world, before you vote on this bill."

Senators voted 26-7 first round approval for the bill. It would require two more approvals to be sent to Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Wednesday afternoon, the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on two abortion-related proposals. One, introduced by Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue, would limit what are called dilation and extraction, or D & E abortions, which critics call "dismemberment abortions," when performed on living fetuses.

In an interview before the hearing, Jenny Popik of the National Right to Life Committee argued the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision banning so-called "partial birth" abortions means states can ban specific procedures if alternative methods exist. She said that is the case for D & E abortions. "A lot of abortionists induce fetal demise… where you actually cause the death of the unborn child before dismembering it. You can induce labor – that’s another one. This D &E has cropped up because of its cheapness," Popik said.

But in a separate interview, Meg Mikolajczyk of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland argued alternatives to D & E are inferior. "It’s riskier, and it takes longer, and it’s not as good for the woman. I mean, cost is just one part of it," Mikolajczyk said.

The second bill, introduced by Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis, would prohibit the sale of fetal tissue. Julie Schmit-Albin of Nebraska Right to Life said it grew out of controversy over videos released last summer that abortion opponents said depicted Planned Parenthood officials negotiating such sales. "The emphasis of Sen. Davis’s LB990 is to further strengthen an existing statute to make sure that no one is profiting from the transfer of fetal remains for research," Schmit-Albin said.

Planned Parenthood officials have denied they profited from the sale of fetal tissue, and a Houston grand jury convened to investigate Planned Parenthood instead indicted the videographers. Mikolajczyk said the bill would stop the donation of tissue for medical research. "It also says that a facility authorized to perform an abortion is only permitted to dispose of fetal tissue through burial, cremation and hospital-type incineration. Because if very specifically limits to three options, you can’t do donations," she said.

The committee took no action on either bill. Neither one has been designated a priority measure, making it very unlikely either will be debated by the full Legislature this year.

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