Bid to change abortion bill handling fails again

Jan. 27, 2023, midnight ·

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

Listen To This Story

Abortion opponents rejected another attempt Friday to change which committee of the Nebraska Legislature will handle their proposal.

The issue is whether a proposal to prohibit abortions after about 6 weeks should be heard by the Judiciary Committee or the Health and Human Services Committee. Judiciary has four Democrats and four Republicans, while Republicans hold a 4-3 majority on Health and Human Services. The Legislature is officially nonpartisan.

Sen. Danielle Conrad, a Democrat and abortion rights supporter, said that of 79 abortion-related bills introduced since 1960, only 18 were handled by committees other than Judiciary. And she said those tended to be peripheral to abortion, not focused on the procedure itself.

“They relate to insurance coverage. They relate to scope of practice. They relate to license plates – pro-life license plates -- that went to Transportation instead of Judiciary,” Conrad said.

Sen. Terrell McKinney, another Democratic abortion-rights supporter, said abortion opponents have enough votes to get their proposal, LB626, debated by the full Legislature, even if the Judiciary Committee deadlocked and failed to advance it. McKinney used a sports analogy to describe what’s happening.

“Yeah, you could win, but do you need to win jumping on the table? Do you need to win and stompin’ somebody's face into the ground? And it's about good sportsmanship. And for us it's about collegiality and being respectful of the institution and the process. And we have to take that into account when we're not moving bills like 626 into its proper committee,” McKinney said.

And Sen. John Fredrickson, another Democrat and abortion-rights supporter, defended the amount of time he and his colleagues were taking to talk about the situation.

“That underscores how important it is that we do talk at length about every step of LB626. That is our job. And that is our role as senators to ensure that we are doing due diligence…especially for bills that are going to have such significant impact on the day to day lives of Nebraskans,” Fredrickson said.

No abortion opponents or supporters of sending the bill to Health and Human Services spoke during more than an hour of debate. The only exception was when Lt. Gov. Joe Kelly called on Sen. Julie Slama.

“Sen. Slama you’re recognized to speak,” Kelly said.

“Question!” Slama called out.

“The question has been called,” Kelly intoned.

That meant it was time to vote on ending debate. That motion passed, and senators then voted 30-16 not to reconsider sending the bill to Health and Human Services. That committee will hold a public hearing on LB626, the abortion limiting bill, next Wednesday at 1:30 Central in the Capitol.

Friday afternoon, the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a proposal to limit Nebraska prisons’ use of solitary confinement or restrictive housing.

Sen. Tony Vargas said isolating prisoners from the rest of the prison population can contribute to severe psychological problems. His bill would say isolation can’t be used on prisoners with severe mental illness, even if they’re on medication so their activities are not “substantially limited.” It would also limit the use of restrictive housing to 15 consecutive days.

Vargas said being placed in restrictive housing can have serious consequences.

“The data has shown us that the psychological harms of solitary confinement are extreme. Suicide rates and incidents of self-harm are much higher for inmates who are housed in solitary confinement. Being placed in restrictive housing would be psychologically difficult for relatively healthy individuals. But imagine how devastating it could be for those with severe mental illness,” Vargas said.

Interim Corrections Director Diane Sabatka Rine opposed the bill. Rine said her department has reduced the population in restrictive housing by 40 percent since 2018. But she said 2/3 of the inmates still there are there because they’ve committed violence. She said the proposed restrictions would be dangerous:

In: This bill, particularly the limit of 15 consecutive days in restrictive housing, would send a message to incarcerated individuals that they can commit acts of violence in our facilities without serious consequences,” she said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.