Guarding Water, Repealing Abortion Pill Reversal Among New Proposals

Jan. 9, 2020, 5:40 p.m. ·

Sen. Megan Hunt, left, talks with Sen. Joni Albrecht, right, on Thursday. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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A proposal that tries to prevent other states from taking Nebraska’s water, and another to repeal a law dealing with what supporters call “abortion pill reversal,” are among those that have been introduced as the Nebraska Legislature continues to gear up for debate. Meanwhile, a think tank warned about basing property tax relief on expecting more tax revenue to keep coming in.

Sen. Dan Hughes grows wheat near Venango, Nebraska, near the state’s border with Colorado. Recently, Colorado has begun talking about how to get more water to serve the growing population of its communities on the Front Range, along the I-25 corridor just east of the Rocky Mountains. This week, Hughes introduced a bill he said would put into Nebraska law what state court decisions have already said: the right to use water from under the ground can’t be separated from ownership of the land above. Hughes says he’s trying to prevent Nebraska’s water from being taken out of the state.

“We don’t want Greeley, Colorado or Fort Collins or Loveland or Denver coming out and buying an acre, and putting a well down and building a pipeline to start pumping Nebraska water for the population of the Front Range,” Hughes said.

On Thursday, Sen. Megan Hunt introduced a bill to repeal a law passed just last year having to do with what supporters call “abortion pill reversal.” The law passed in LB209 requires abortion providers to inform women they may be able to continue their pregnancy even after taking the first of two pills required for a drug-induced abortion. Hunt led opponents of that law last year, arguing there were no valid scientific studies to support that claim. She says one study attempted since then has strengthened her argument.

“The reason I chose to introduce a repeal of LB209 is because of a recent study that came out showing that the procedure of, quote unquote ‘abortion reversal’ is actually very dangerous for women. About half of the women enrolled in this study ended up hemorrhaging from this treatment, and from stopping the treatment of a medication abortion. And so we have to repeal this law for the safety of patients in Nebraska,” Hunt said.

Hunt was referring to a study at the University of California, Davis where researchers were investigating whether the hormone progesterone can stop a medication-induced abortion. Of the 12 women who enrolled, two dropped out because of symptoms including nausea, vomiting or bleeding. Three others required an ambulance to take them to a hospital because of severe hemorrhaging – one of them had gotten progesterone, the other two got a placebo. Researchers, who had planned to enroll 40 women, then stopped the experiment.

Sen. Joni Albrecht, chief sponsor of last year’s LB209, said the results of the experiment have not changed her mind about supporting the law.

“Absolutely it has not. I will stand firm on (LB)209 as it was written, and for all the right reasons,” Albrecht said. “Our survey had many, many more than 12 women come forward, and they didn’t go through with their whole survey, if you will, of the women.”

Albrecht was referring to a study by abortion pill reversal advocate Dr. George Delgado, which opponents have criticized as unscientific. Albrecht criticized the researchers in the study Hunt referred to as biased.

Hunt faces an uphill battle in her attempt to repeal the law, since it would probably have to overcome a filibuster, requiring support from two-thirds of the Legislature.

Another bill that was introduced, by Sen. Tom Brandt, would say that people who win lottery prizes of $300,000 or more would be able to decide whether or not their names would be made public. Brandt says particularly in small towns, winners can come under a lot of pressure.

“You don’t want to move away from your friends and your neighbors. But by the same token, you don’t want them to know that you’ve got all of this newfound money because you would want to think through a gift to the city or the school or your church or the community,” Brandt said. “If we have to put these people in front of a television camera to claim a $10 million prize, pretty soon they’re going to be pestered to death, and they’re going to go to another state. And when they leave, their money leaves.”

Nebraska Lottery Director Brian Rockey says publicizing prize-winners hasn’t generally been a problem. “The vast majority of winners have not had an issue or concern about publicity. But if a winner has requested that we not publicize their prize, we have honored that,” Rockey said. “But we’ve also made sure they understood that if a media outlet or an individual were to call or contact us and want to know who claimed a particular prize, we would provide that information. We’ve always considered it public information.”

Rockey added privacy is an issue around the country, adding the Nebraska Lottery has not yet taken a position on Brandt’s bill.

Also Thursday, an expert on state fiscal health warned against relying on a temporary boost in state revenues to launch new programs. “If you put in place a permanent program like a tax cut or a new spending (program), and then that money doesn’t continue going forward, then you’re going to have to either increase taxes or cut spending to make up for that down the road,” said Jeff Chapman of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Chapman said he wasn’t taking a position on Nebraska tax proposals. But Renee Fry of the Open Sky Policy Institute, which sponsored Chapman’s visit, said a tentative Revenue Committee plan to relieve property taxes by increasing school aid relying on better-than-expected tax revenue would cost more than projected revenues over the next three years would allow.

In response, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, chair of the Revenue Committee, said she’s been working on the plan with Gov. Pete Ricketts and Appropriations Committee Chair John Stinner. Linehan said they’re in a much better position to know what’s affordable than unelected people who don’t work for the Legislature.