Lawmakers advance birth control bill amid questions

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February 6, 2012 - 6:00pm

The Legislature advanced a bill Tuesday designed to increase access to birth control, but only after adding an amendment that some senators say will make the bill ineffective.

The federal government offers states money for birth control services for people at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line. That means someone in a family of four with income up to almost $43,000 would be eligible. But senators adopted an amendment offered by Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton that would prohibit any funds from going to an organization, such as Planned Parenthood, that provides elective abortions. Omaha Sen. Burke Harr said that would violate federal law, which requires that people should be able to get medical assistance from any institution qualified to perform the service.
 


Sen. Brenda Council

Of 27 clinics across the state that currently provide birth control services, two are run by Planned Parenthood. After Fulton's amendment was adopted, Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, a supporter of the bill, urged her colleagues to vote against it. Otherwise, she said "Your vote affirmatively for this amendment and the underlying bill constitutes a sham. And I wouldn't think that any of you would want to be participants in a sham."


Sen. Tony Fulton

Fulton denied that his amendment was intended to kill the bill, even though he doesn't support it. "If it's inconclusive or if it leaves wiggle room such that renders LB540 (the bill) ineffectual, I don't think that's the case. I think the language is fairly obvious," he said. Fulton offered to work with supporters of the bill on language before the next round of debate.

Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, chairwoman of the committee that introduced the bill, said she welcomed that opportunity. "I have to say, colleagues, that I have persevered in LB540 and would like the opportunity to sit down with all parties," Campbell said.


Sen. Kathy Campbell

"We very much need to address the eligibility of women in this program. It's not that the program goes away, or that we don't have one (without this bill). We have one right now, but it is limiting.

Currently, publically funded family planning services are limited to women with breast or cervical cancer with incomes at or below 250 percent of poverty, those who are disabled at or below the poverty line, and those who are pregnant for a time after they deliver, if they're at or below 185 percent of poverty. The poverty line for a family of four is $23,050 of income per year. Those below 58 percent of the poverty level are eligible in all cases. Senators gave first-round approval to the bill on a vote of 28-5. (For a table of poverty levels for different size families, click here). In a related matter, a coalition of education, health and faith groups renewed a push for extending prenatal care to low income women not eligible for Medicaid, including illegal immigrants. A bill to do that is currently in the Health and Human Services Committee.

A similar measure failed two years ago after Gov. Dave Heineman threatened a veto. But at a news conference where a host of groups announced their support, Julie Schmit Albin of Nebraska Right to Life said senators have the ability to overcome a veto. "It just boils down to whether our pro-life members of this body (the Legislature) will stand up and take up this Challenge," she said.

In an afternoon hearing, the Education Committee heard testimony on Fulton's proposal to require the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited in schools. Speaking for the Nebraska Veterans Council and the Disabled American Veterans, Greg Holloway supported the proposal. "We have all fought for our flag and fought for our country, so yes we do believe this is very important that the youth of our nation understand our flag and what our flag represents. And ..the Pledge of Allegiance does give you some sense of belonging to our flag, belonging to our country, and respect to our country," he said.

David Moshman, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor of educational psychology, opposed the bill. "There's something problematic about the whole notion of compulsory patriotism," Moshman said. "I think it's the nature of patriotism that it comes out of your understanding and your own feelings about things and it's what you spontaneously believe and want to do. To require somebody to be patriotic just doesn't make sense. And to require somebody to say the Pledge of Allegiance as if the saying of those words is patriotism I think misses the point."

Fulton said that in keeping with a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court decision, students would be able to opt out of reciting the Pledge if they wanted to. But Moshman said they would be under peer pressure to participate. The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

 

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