Property tax/school finance bill on pause, abortion proposal heard

Sen. Suzanne Geist testifies in a hearing on her abortion bill (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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February 20, 2020 - 7:14pm

NET's Jack Williams interviewed statehouse reporter Fred Knapp Thursday about developments in the Nebraska Legislature. Warning: This report contains some graphic descriptions of abortion.

Jack: Nebraska lawmakers are getting to the heart of the current legislative session with important debate today. Fred Knapp is at the state capitol. And Fred, I understand the legislature debated today on property tax and school finance and also abortion. Good afternoon.

Fred: Good afternoon, Jack. Yes.  So they began this morning with a big property tax/school finance bill. They have completed the first round or the first half of the first round of debate on that without reaching a vote.

This is the three hour rule where they go for three hours and then it's up to the sponsor to show that she or he has enough votes to overcome a filibuster to continue. So that's Sen. Linehan, who's the chief proponent of this bill, leading the effort, and she says she's going to meet with school officials and try to allay their fears about the bill. She talked about the process following the debate.

“Nobody out there likes it. Everybody's talked, since I've been here, that we need to change the way we fund schools. You heard it on the radio, you hear it every time they come in and testify. We're not doing our fair share. And now we're trying to do our fair share. And it’s like ‘Ooh,’ because nobody likes change,” Linehan said.

So in order to proceed, now, she needs 33 votes, two-thirds of the Legislature, and she said jokingly, perhaps, that she has 32 and a half. So we'll see if she can muster enough support. And she says that she thinks she can. If so, it'll come up again early next week.

Jack:  And I see the Judiciary Committee was holding a hearing on a controversial abortion bill. What can you tell us about that?

Fred: Well, this is a proposal to ban and abortion method that's commonly used in the second trimester -- that is the between 13 and 24 weeks into a pregnancy. It involves dilating a woman's cervix, using suction and forceps to remove the contents of the uterus.

 Critics call this dismemberment abortion and one doctor who used to perform the procedure, Dr. Kathi Aultman, gave a graphic description of using forceps to remove a fetuses arms and legs. Aultman is supporting the ban, and Sen. Wendy DeBoer asked about her change of attitude.

“What changed your mind, so you used to do it and now you don't? Or you don't feel it should be done? What changed your mind?” DeBoer asked.

“The first thing was that I had a baby,” Aultman replied. “I even did abortions while I was pregnant, because I felt my baby was wanted; theirs was not. So logical, no problem. After I had the baby, something happened in my mind, and suddenly I saw them as little people who I could not justify killing them just because they weren't wanted.”

Another supporter, Kristen New, who said she used to counsel abortion patients, said the proposal doesn't impose undue burdens on a woman's constitutionally protected rights.

“I want to be clear that LB814 does not limit a woman's access to abortion in our state. It prohibits a specific and barbaric procedure that has no place in the civilized society,” New said.

Jack:  So what did opponents have to say?

Fred: Well, Dr. Jody Steinauer, a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, said it was the safest method of abortion at that stage of pregnancy. Steinauer opposed the limitations the bill would put on physicians and talked about several patients she had had.

“It would go against my medical oath to not be able to offer the safest possible method of abortion to my patients in the second trimester. For example, for a recent patient I cared for who came to my office with her husband to consult about ending her pregnancy at 17 weeks because of risk to her own health due to her medical illness and wanting to be there to take care of her children. Or another patient I saw on the same day who was 16 years old and hadn't realized she was pregnant until after the first trimester because she had irregular periods,” Steinauer said.

And there were also objections to another portion of the bill that appeared to leave it up to the courts, whether a woman's name would be protected from public disclosure in legal actions if the bill were passed. Senator Suzanne Geist, who's the bills lead sponsor, said she couldn't recall why that was put in the bill. And that led to an exchange with Senator Patty Pansing Brooks.

"That is about shaming women,” Pansing Brooks said. “It is …in order to shame women who have to go through this, so that is not a legal issue. It is not. It is a shaming issue. And that part really riles me.”

Geist said that was not her goal. Pansing Brooks said she would work on that provision -- she wants to work on that version if the bill gets out of committee.




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