Bill to combat sexually transmitted diseases advances despite statutory rape comments

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March 27, 2013 - 5:59pm

A proposal aimed at combatting sexually transmitted diseases advanced Wednesday in the Nebraska Legislature, but not before an opponent accused supporters of condoning statutory rape.

The proposal by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard would allow doctors and other medical professionals to prescribe or provide samples of drugs to fight chlamydia and gonorrhea not only for patients, but for the patients’ sexual partners, even if those partners did not come in to be examined. Howard says that would cut down on the risk that an untreated partner would re-infect a pregnant woman, leading to possible blindness or death of her baby.

On Monday, senators rejected an amendment that would have required doctors to notify parents of either the patient or the partner if they were under 18 years old. Wednesday, Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial questioned Howard about what he suggested was an implication of that decision.

"Senator Howard, are you a parent?" Christensen asked.

"No sir, I am not," Howard replied.

"If you was a parent, and your child was raped, would you want to be notified?" Christensen asked.

"Yes sir, I would," said Howard.

Then Christensen said "In this bill, we could literally have an underage child getting benefits that was raped – statutory rape. And we’re not protecting that because we don’t give parental notice."

Christensen then expanded on that theme. "When you guys voted down Monday the parental notification, you’re allowing statutory rape, which is illegal in this state, and we’re now condoning it. Statutory rape. You vote for this bill, in its current form, you’re saying statutory rape is okay," he said.

Nebraska law prohibits sexual contact between someone 19 or older and someone under 15. Such contact is commonly referred to as statutory rape.

Howard’s bill would not change that law, and Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers took exception to Christensen’s line of criticism. "He’s going to say I’m voting for statutory rape? He rambles. Now I’m talking about Sen. Christensen. He rambles. Talking about ‘Are you a parent? You want to know if your child was raped?’ What kind of craziness is that? It’s the craziness that comes from a disturbed, disordered mind," Chambers declared.

Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad said Christensen’s argument reminded her of a lesson from law school. "If you have the facts, you pound on the facts. If you have the law, you pound on the law. If you don’t have either, you pound on the table. We’ve heard the pounding on the table, senators," Conrad said.

But Christensen didn’t back down. "In this bill it doesn’t prohibit someone that’s of age, or underage, either one, from going in and getting medicine, or a prescription, for their partner, since it isn’t age-specific. And there is no notification to parents," he said.

Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor urged his colleagues against moralizing in discussing a public health measure. Gloor recalled when he was an Air Force medic, and airmen would come in for injections if they contracted a sexually transmitted disease. He said the penicillin mixture used was the consistency of Elmer’s Glue, and some of his fellow medics would not warm it up before injecting it, insuring that it would remain as a painful lump in the patient’s backside for several days. Gloor said at first he thought that was brilliant, because the airmen never came back, until a doctor told the medics otherwise. "You think they’re not coming back because they’re walking the straight and narrow. And I’ll tell you the reason they’re not coming back is because they don’t want to be hurt like that again. You’re doing just the opposite of what you think you’re doing. Don’t moralize. Treat them," Gloor recalled the doctor saying.

Making her final appeal for votes on her bill, LB528, Howard expressed surprise at how the debate had gone. "I had no idea that supporting babies and families and opposing sexually transmitted diseases was controversial, nor should it be. We have an obligation to protect our most vulnerable citizens. And maybe I’m a softy for that, but just the same, I would appreciate your green vote on LB528," she said.

Senators then voted 32-3 to give the bill first-round approval. It still needs two more votes before being sent to the governor.

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