Legislature Begins Session with Proposals on Abortion, Guns and More

Jan. 5, 2022, midnight ·

Senators met for the first time in the 2022 session Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Senators met for the first time in the 2022 session Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Legislature began its 2022 session Wednesday, with senators introducing proposals dealing with abortion, guns, and a host of other topics.

As lawmakers gathered for the start of the 2022 legislative session, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, presiding over the day’s events, made it official.

“Pursuant to the provisions of Article III, section 10 of the Constitution of Nebraska, the 107th Legislature, second session of the Legislature of Nebraska, assembled in the George W. Norris legislative chamber of the state capitol, at the hour of 10 a.m. Wednesday, January 5, 2022 is now called to order. Senators, please record your presence,” Foley intoned, his remarks followed by a bell alerting senators to check in.

Senators soon got down to the business of introducing bills, something they can do for the first 10 days of each session. Bill introduction simply consists of placing papers on the clerk’s desk – no speeches. But in interviews with Nebraska Public Media, senators discussed some of the proposals they are introducing.

Sen. Julie Slama, introduced a bill that would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around 6 weeks into a pregnancy. The time limit is the same as a Texas law currently being challenged in court, but unlike that law, which relies on individuals to sue people providing abortions, this would have the state prosecute people providing abortions, making it a felony. Slama was asked about criticism that many women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks.

“That baby still has a beating heart. Women find out at various times during their pregnancy when they’re pregnant. Some women don’t find out at all until they give birth. So that baby has a beating heart and has a right to life,” Slama said.

The bill currently has 21 cosponsors, less than a majority, and 12 short of the number needed to stop a filibuster, in the 49-member Legislature.

Another bill introduced Wednesday, by Sen. Tom Brewer, would do away with the requirement to get a permit in order to be able to carry a concealed handgun. Brewer said carrying a weapon is a constitutional right, but the cost of getting a permit, which he put at $125 to $200, makes some people unable to do so.

Much of that cost involves training, which is required under current law. Brewer’s bill would do away with that requirement. He said that would make individuals responsible for their own decisions:.

“If you’ve done nothing to take away that constitutional right to have a weapon, then it’s really your determination on what level of training you need to be at. And if you don’t feel comfortable, then you don’t carry,” Brewer said.

Brewer said he would make the proposal his priority bill, in order to get an early hearing and increase its chances.

Sen. Carol Blood introduced a proposed state constitutional amendment to prohibit the Legislature from passing bills that would increase the cost of local governments, if the same legislation doesn’t contain state money to cover the costs. Blood gave an example of how state action can burden local taxpayers.

“If you live in a county like Johnson County where Tecumseh state prison is located, what a lot of people don’t know is that if an inmate dies in a state prison, that it is that county that pays for that autopsy, and pays for the grand jury investigation. A small county like Johnson County that’s had several inmates die over the last year, that can be a big burden on their budget,” Blood said.

And that can translate into higher property taxes, Blood added. Since her proposal is a constitutional amendment, if approved by the Legislature it would go before voters on next year’s ballot.

And Sen. Terrell McKinney, along with Sen. Justin Wayne, is preparing to introduce what they’re calling the North Omaha Recovery Plan, which calls for investing in health, small business, education and housing in that historically black neighborhood. The plan calls for using $400 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA funds. McKinney acknowledged that’s a significant chunk -- 40 percent -- of the $1 billion the state expects to get.

“It is. But when you look at the whole picture of North Omaha has been neglected historically by the state, the city and the county for years. And to mitigate or try to prevent what has been happening during the pandemic, we need to be ambitious about investing in north Omaha, to decrease the amount of disparities that are taking place currently,” McKinney said.

The plan is only one of a series of uses for the funds that are expected to be proposed. Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. John Stinner has said he’s gotten $4 billion worth of proposals for how the $1 billion should be spent.