Senators debate photo ID; Pillen signs abortion/trans health bill

May 22, 2023, midnight ·

Senator Tom Brewer, foreground, listens as Senator Julie Slama, background, debates photo ID (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Senator Tom Brewer, foreground, listens as Senator Julie Slama, background, debates photo ID (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Legislature moved toward approving photo ID requirements to vote Monday, despite criticism they’re not strict enough. And Gov. Jim Pillen signed restrictions on abortion and transgender health care into law.

Last November, Nebraska voters approved a ballot initiative requiring a photo ID in order to vote. But they left it up to the Legislature to fill in the details of how that should work.

Monday, lawmakers debated two different versions. One was supported by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. It would require voters to present photo IDs, with certain exceptions. If they voted by mail, they could include a photocopied ID or a driver’s license or state ID number. If they vote in person, they’d have to present a photo ID unless they say they’re unable to obtain an ID due to disability, illness, lack of a birth certificate or other documents, or a religious objection to being photographed. Sen. Danielle Conrad, a member of that committee, defended its version as following voters’ wishes, even though she opposed the ballot measure.

“I vehemently and firmly disagree with voter ID. However, I equally find as sacrosanct our duty to facilitate and carry out the will of the people even when we disagree withit,” Conrad said.

But Sen. Julie Slama, who helped lead the campaign to get voter approval of the ID requirement, said the legislation does not go far enough. Slama wants stronger requirements for the secretary of state to verify voters’ citizenship. She also wants mail-in votes to be notarized or witnessed by another voter attesting to the voter’s identity. And she wants a specific definition of what would be a reasonable impediment that could exempt someone from having to show a photo ID.

in requiring citizenship.

“The lay of the land is this: those who have opposed voter ID and done everything they can to block voter ID and the implementation of voter ID are now in control of voter ID. Look at the groups supporting the Evnen amendment,” Slama said.

The “Evnen” Slama referred to is Secretary of State Robert Evnen, who supported the voter ID ballot measure. But Sen. Tom Brewer, chair of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, objected to calling it the Evnen amendment.

“This is not a Bob Evnen amendment. He has helped us. He has showed us what we need to do to make sure that, for one, he can execute what we're being tasked as far as voterID,” Brewer said.

Both Brewer and Slama appealed to their colleagues, exhausted by a grueling, filibuster-filled session, in their desire not to have to return later this year. Brewer said with only nine business days left in the legislative session, senators have to act.

“It is what we have to do in order to fulfill our obligations to the people of Nebraska. And whether we like it or not, we're out of time. And if we decide that this is such a horrible bill that we can’t deal with it, then we will be in special session,” he said.

But Slama argued that’s what would happen if senators voted to cut off debate and advance the committee’s version of the bill.

“It does not follow the plain language of the constitutional amendment. It will end up in court, and it will lose. And we will be back here again in special session because, unlike everything else besides the budget, we are constitutionally obligated to put together a framework in this session that fulfills the will of the voters,” she said.

As debate continued, it appeared clear that the committee version had more support. An amendment containing it was adopted, 32-3, while an amendment containing Slama’s version was rejected, 22-8. A first-round vote on the bill was expected later Monday.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, Gov. Jim Pillen signed LB574, the bill restricting both abortion and certain medical procedures for transgender youth. Surrounded by supporters of LB574, Pillen praised the legislation.“It's about protecting our kids and saving babies, pure and simple. (You) don't want to listen to all the other stuff that people are trying to make it out to be. It's two simple things,” Pillen said.

The bill outlaws most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, effective immediately. Another section, effective in October, prohibits surgery for those under 19 to transition to a different gender. It also gives the state’s chief medical officer the ability to restrict use of puberty blockers and hormone treatments.

Parental consent is currently already required for medical care for minors. Pillen suggested that recommending medical treatment for gender dysphoria among young people is diabolical.

“We believe in protecting our kids, making sure that they -- parents and kids -- don't get duped into the silliness that ‘If you do this, you're going to become happy.’ That is absolutely Lucifer at its finest. And we believe this law protects and allows our children to make decisions on their own when they become of age,” he said.

In a statement issued just after Pillen signed the bill, Mindy Rush Chipman of ACLU Nebraska said his approval showed “total disregard for Nebraskans’ freedom, health and well-being,” adding that the group is considering a legal challenge.