Abortion restrictions resurface, Chinese technology targeted in Nebraska Legislature

May 8, 2023, midnight ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The issue of abortion is back before the Nebraska Legislature. Two weeks ago, a proposal that would have prohibited most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy failed by one vote. Monday, an abortion opponent introduced a 12 week ban that he wants attached to a proposal restricting health care for transgender youth.

Sen. Ben Hansen, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, introduced the amendment. It would prohibit most abortions after about 12 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest, or medical emergencies.

Sen. Megan Hunt, an abortion rights supporter, sounded notice during debate on an unrelated bill.

“Ladies and gentlemen, there's a new amendment in town -- new amendment in town -- introduced by Ben Hansen on LB574, a bill to ban health care for trans kids. And what they'd like to do is a do over of LB626. You all had your chance to vote for Senator Merv Riepe’s amendment for 12 weeks. If you had, you'd have your little abortion ban. And you missed the window,” Hunt said.

Hunt was referring to the Legislature’s dramatic vote two weeks ago, when a proposed six week ban on abortion failed by one vote. Sen. Merv Riepe, who had proposed a 12-week ban, refused to vote for cloture, which seemed to doom further restrictions on abortion for this year.

Speaker John Arch has said he would not schedule LB626, the abortion bill, for further debate. But the new proposal would be added to the trans health restrictions in LB574. Arch said Monday he will schedule that for debate before the end of the session, currently slated for June 9.

In a brief interview, Riepe said he supports Hansen’s amendment, even though it does not contain an exception for fetal anomalies that he supported. But he added there’s a long way between something being introduced and passed.

Meanwhile, in debate Monday, international relations and national politics intersected as senators approved restrictions on companies that use certain Chinese telecommunications equipment.

The proposal would deny subsidies from the state’s universal service fund and broadband funds to any company that uses equipment from a list of manufacturers deemed threats to national security. Sen. Eliot Bostar, the bill’s sponsor, has said Viaero Wireless, which serves western Nebraska where nuclear missiles are located, uses equipment from Chinese manufacturer Huawei. The concern is that the equipment could be used to monitor or block communications. In Monday’s debate, he described the situation.

“As we stand here today, companies that face restrictions nationally, and are using equipment that has been determined nationally to pose a threat to our national security, are currently able to utilize universal service funds in Nebraska, apply for grants through the Broadband Bridge act, and operate as business as usual,” Bostar said.

Sen. Brian Hardin of Gering, whose district includes many nuclear missile silos, said suspicious activity has taken place there.

“In our neck of the woods, it's not often that someone comes up to your door, knocks, and then offers you many multiples of what your farm or ranch is worth -- in cash. That has happened a few times,” Hardin said.

Hardin said those incidents have been referred to the FBI.

The legislation is being promoted by 1st District Rep. Mike Flood, a Republican. Sen. Danielle Conrad, a Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, questioned if the push for the legislation by Flood was an effort to score points against the Democratic Biden Administration:

“I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Congressman Flood. We served together, we maintain a warm personal relationship and constructive working relationship. And I'm glad that we've had the chance to work together on so many different issues. But what I'm not interested in is having this body engage in some sort of political battle between a congressman and the Biden administration because they want to talk about who's toughest on China,” Conrad said.

Bostar, also a Democrat, said partisan politics had nothing to do with it.

“This isn't about whether or not President Biden or his administration has done an adequate job of addressing this particular threat. It's also not about whether or not Congress has done an adequate job of addressing this threat. This is about the state of Nebraska doing what it can to protect Nebraskans,” Bostar said.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, a Democrat, said the Public Service Commission already has the authority to deny subsidies to companies that use banned equipment. She asked Sen. Mike Moser, Republican chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, if the legislation is really needed.

“Are we doing this because the PSC is refusing to deny funds?” Cavanaugh asked.

“Well, the PSC previously ruled that this equipment should not be used. This bill says you won't be able to apply for money until equipment is removed from the towers where it exists,” Moser replied.

Senators voted 37-0 to add Bostar’s proposal to a multifaceted telecommunications bill. That bill also creates a new office under the governor to coordinate hundreds of millions of dollars in broadband spending. The bill is now poised for a final round of voting.