STD bill dies in Legislature

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January 24, 2012 - 6:00pm

A bill aimed at combatting the spread of sexually transmitted diseases has died in the Legislature. The bill was sponsored by Lincoln Senator Amanda McGill. It would have given legal immunity to doctors and other medical personnel who prescribe antibiotics to patients they never met, if those people were partners of someone diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease. McGill said the bill was aimed at combatting an epidemic in Omaha that's now spreading to Lincoln and other communities.

Sen. Beau McCoy

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha was among those expressing opposition. "I think we're creating a very dangerous situation here in regards to liability with physicians. We've had epidemics in the past in our country's history, and I don't know of any case where we have excused physicians and medical practitioners from liability for any other epidemic in our nation's history. Why should it be done now?" he asked.

McGill said other states are using similar legislation to fight the epidemic. "Even if you may not approve of certain sexual behaviors, or you may not be a hundred percent comfortable with the thought of a doctor giving a prescription to someone they haven't met, there's a reality out there. And there's evidence to show that this works," she said. "This isn't a brand new concept. We can't say that no other epidemic in history has been treated this way because this one is currently being treated this way by 30 states."

Sen. Amanda McGill

When the time came to vote, only 21 senators supported advancing the bill, with 24 opposed. McGill said afterwards that some physicians will continue to write prescriptions for people they haven't seen because the law doesn't explicitly forbid it. And she said she hopes a bill requiring education on the topic in schools advances. That proposal, introduced last year by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, currently remains in the Education Committee.

Also on Wednesday, supporters of making it easier to use Nebraska's initiative and referendum process filed paperwork for a new campaign. The campaign will attempt to lower the number of signatures required to put measures on the ballot.

A state constitutional amendment, which is what the sponsors are proposing, currently takes valid signatures from 10 percent of the state's registered voters. The initiative would lower that to 10 percent of the people who voted in the last election for governor. That was the standard before a Nebraska Supreme Court decision in 1994. Now, supporters say, getting the proposed measure on the ballot will require more than 115 thousand signatures. If they succeed and the measure is approved by voters, a future constitutional amendment would require just under 49 thousand valid signatures to get on the ballot. The effort is being spearheaded by veteran petition organizers Kent Bernbeck, Mike Groene, and Marc Schniederjans.

And in Washington on Wednesday, at a hearing in the US House of Representatives, Republicans accused the State Department of dragging its feet in its review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline before recommending President Obama reject the project. The hearing was held for a bill from Nebraska Congressman Lee Terry that would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority over the process instead of the State Department.

Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones defended the agency's decision and said the process was incomplete without a final route in Nebraska. "We did not have the time to get the information that was needed on the alternative routes in Nebraska and that is why we recommended denial. It was not based on the merits of the project," Jones said.

Although he was initially invited to testify, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Director Mike Linder did not appear in-person at the hearing after what Terry said were objections from the State Department. In written testimony, Linder said DEQ and the State Department failed to reach an agreement on how the environmental review in Nebraska would fit into the federal permit process. Now that the permit has been denied he says the review is on hold and it is unclear if, when, or how it may move forward.




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