Senators hear pros and cons on tax credit funding for pregnancy help organizations

Feb. 24, 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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A proposal for up to $10 million in tax credits for organizations that help pregnant women, but don’t provide abortions, drew support and opposition in a legislative hearing Friday. Meanwhile, the full Legislature remained bogged down over what one senator described as “culture war” issues.

Sen. Joni Albrecht is sponsoring the bill to give tax credits to people who donate to pregnancy help organizations. These are charities that provide services to pregnant women.

Testifying in support of the proposal, Laura Buddenberg, former executive director of Essential Pregnancy Services in Omaha, described their mission.

“We work to help women improve their physical, emotional, social and financial circumstances through parenting and life skills classes, professional behavioral health services delivered by licensed mental health professionals. We also provide material aid, financial assistance and case management services, all of them free of charge to women pregnant and through 18 months postpartum,” Buddenberg said.

Buddenberg said the material aid can include everything from maternity clothes and diapers to cribs and car seats.

Albrecht, lead sponsor of a different bill to restrict abortions, suggested funding pregnancy help organizations was a proposal both sides could agree on. “Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, we can all agree that every woman and child deserves love and support. That's what these organizations do,” Albrecht said.

But Claire Wiebe of Planned Parenthood disagreed, both with that sentiment, and how the organizations in question should be described.

“When Nebraskans are fully informed about their options for reproductive health care, they can make the best decisions for their lives and their futures. Unfortunately, those who are opposed to abortion have developed a national network of anti-abortion organizations, called crisis pregnancy centers or anti-abortion centers, that restrict control and manipulate the information people facing unintended pregnancies receive,” Wiebe said.

For example, she said, women may be falsely told they are too far along in their pregnancies to qualify for an abortion.

And Joey Adler Ruane of the Open Sky Policy Institute objected on fiscal grounds.

“We have concerns about this specific structure of this credit in particular, as it would give taxpayers who donate to pregnancy care centers a non-refundable income tax credit equal to their donation, so long as this isn't more than half of their total liability, which the state hasn't done for any other types of charitable donations,” Adler Ruane said.

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He said that means if someone owed $20,000 in taxes and contributed $10,000 to one of these organizations, they get a tax credit worth $10,000. If they donated to another charity, they would get a tax deduction worth at most $664.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill. But it already has the backing of Gov. Jim Pillen, who included projected spending for it in his budget proposal.

Meanwhile, in debate by the full Legislature, senators remained bogged down by what Sen. Wendy DeBoer called “culture war” issues.

Once again, Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh led the charge to prevent the Legislature from advancing any bills. A noncontroversial, technical bill dealing with county treasurers was on the agenda. But Cavanaugh made it clear it was that bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kathleen Kauth, who inspired her to a filibuster that has, so far, eaten up two days of debate.

Specifically, Cavanaugh has an issue with Kauth’s proposal to prohibit surgery or drugs to help youth under age 19 transition between genders.

“I am taking eight hours on Senator Kauth’s bill because I don't believe that it is appropriate for us to pass, without it taking time, bills from people who are introducing bills that hurt children,” Cavanaugh said.

Sen. Megan Hunt, supporting Cavanaugh’s opposition, called Kauth’s proposal bigoted. Kauth did not respond to the criticism during debate. In an interview, she said she did not want to play into her opponents’ delay tactics. And she denied any bigotry.

“First of all, biology is not bigotry. And these are bills designed to protect kids who are dealing with gender dysphoria, which is an incredibly traumatic issue to deal with. But cutting off body parts, taking puberty blockers, which they have no long term data showing how it's going to affect them -- everything that they've seen is negative,” Kauth said.

Sen. Steve Erdman condemned Cavanaugh’s use of delay tactics against Kauth..

“It is disingenuous for someone to stand up and say, for four, five, six, eight hours, whatever we've been doing, because they don't like another senator, we're not going to let their bill pass. I have gotten as many texts, emails and phone calls over what has been happening this week than anything that we've ever done here. People are confused about what we're doing, why we're doing it. This is something that has to stop. This is not what the citizens of Nebraska elected us to come and do,” Erdman said.

Sen. Wendy DeBoer traced the problem to what she called “culture war” bills, such as Kauth’s proposed ban on treatment for trans youth. DeBoer asked Nebraskans to say whether they want senators to concentrate on those issues, or other priorities.

“Do you want us to work on childcare, access to health care, housing, broadband, property taxes, strong schools? We have a teacher shortage, a nursing shortage, a policeman shortage, a fireman shortage. Do you want us to work on those things? I want to work on those things. A lot of my colleagues want to work on those things. Send me an email Nebraska and tell me if you want us to work on those things, or if you want us to work on the other things,” DeBoer said.

Senators again adjourned for the day without reaching a vote on the treasurers’ bill, or any other bill. Next week, Speaker John Arch says, they’ll start debating senators’ priority bills, including on Wednesday, Sen. Tom Brewer’s proposal to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.