Legislative Update: Week of May 8

Welcome back to the Women’s Fund Legislative Update! We have been spending a lot of time at the Legislature and last week was busy, with big victories on a range of issues. Thank you for continuing to speak up on issues facing women and girls in our communities! Your voice continues to matter!

Big Victory for Trafficking Opponents

We had a big win last week when the Legislature moved LB 289 to final reading. When LB 289 went through first round debate, there were some concerns from other senators about potential unintended consequences. We worked with Senator Pansing Brooks to amend and strengthen the bill that solidified the Legislature’s support.

With this bill, traffickers and those who solicit trafficked individuals would face real consequences, something that is currently infrequent in trafficking prosecutions. Additionally, victims and survivors of trafficking would not face criminal charges. To learn about the specifics of the bill, check out our fact sheet. You can also read our report on sex trafficking in Nebraska.

LB 289 was amended during first round debate to include other bills pertaining to sexual and domestic violence. Those include:

  • LB 191, which eliminates the gap in protection order renewals for victims of domestic violence;
  • LB 188 will prohibit a person who has been convicted of sexual assault from seeking or obtaining parental rights to a child born from that assault; and
  • LB 178 provides for protection orders in the case of sexual assault.

LB 289 should be on the legislative agenda for final reading next week. We will keep you posted.

Legislature Wisely Rejects Tax Cut Bill

Our non-partisan legislature voted in the best interest of all Nebraskans by rejecting LB 461, a tax cut for the wealthiest Nebraskans that would have cost the state an estimated $458 million a year when fully implemented.

Twenty-two senators took a bold step to reject LB 461. These senators stood up for everyday Nebraskans and the understanding we need to protect funding for education, healthcare, public safety and other important services and programs.

If your senator is one of the 22 senators who took a stand against providing tax cuts for the wealthiest Nebraskans while our state is dealing with a budget shortfall, please reach out and thank them. To learn more, see the Lincoln Journal Star’s article on the bill.

Access to Family Planning Services Protected

We had a big victory for Title X funding in LB 327, the mainline budget bill. Originally, this bill included language that would have reprioritized Title X funding in a manner that would have excluded stand-alone family planning clinics – those that focus on providing family planning healthcare. This would have affected about 14,500 people who depend on those clinics to receive preventive healthcare services.

This bill could have had a negative impact on low-income families in many rural areas of the state, as it would have excluded the following clinics from receiving Title X funding:

  • Central Health Center in Grand Island and Kearney,
  • Family Health Services in Southeast Nebraska, including Crete and Lincoln,
  • People’s Family Health Services in North Platte, and
  • Planned Parenthood in Omaha and Lincoln.

Altogether, these clinics stood to lose more than $1 million in funding, cuts that would disproportionately harm low income, rural Nebraskans. Moreover, remaining Title X providers would have been unable to absorb the thousands of patients affected, and many patients would not have been able to get to a different Title X provider.

Striking this language in LB 327 is a victory for all Nebraskans, as access to these health centers is crucial for testing and treating STDs, preventing unintended pregnancies, and access to additional preventive health care which means fewer costly emergency room visits.

Nebraska Legislature Supports Pregnant and Parenting Students

Last Tuesday, senators voted to pass LB 427, a bill that demonstrates Nebraska’s commitment to supporting all students. Senator Tony Vargas championed this bill to provide necessary support for pregnant and parenting students.

LB 427 requires that all school districts adopt clear policies to support pregnant and parenting students, based on standards set by a model policy that will be written by the Nebraska Department of Education. These standards include, providing accommodations for students who need to express milk, flexible absence policies, alternative coursework or modes of instruction, and assistance in finding affordable, high-quality childcare for student parents. These policies will decrease barriers to education and increase the ability for young parents to be economically secure and self-sufficient.

Research has shown that pregnant and parenting students want to stay in school but they face many barriers to continuing their education. For more information, read the Omaha World-Herald article about the vote and the Nebraska ACLU’s study on Nebraska school policies about pregnant and parenting students that provided the impetus for this bill.

Legislative Study Resolutions

Each year members of the Legislature bring forward issues to study during the interim through Legislative Resolutions. Often times, these studies are used to understand the best path forward to address the issue at hand and can lead to legislation the following year.

The Women’s Fund is working with senators and partners on the following issues to study over the interim:

  • LR 216, introduced by Senator Pansing Brooks, will look at policies, practices and laws that govern the state’s ability to vacate or expunge criminal records for victims of sex trafficking, and the effect on their ability to access services;
  • LR 143, introduced by Senators Kolowski and Pansing Brooks, will examine pay equity issues;
  • LR 241, introduced by Senator Vargas, will examine the impact of Title X funding and services, as well as the legal implications of changing prioritization of how funds are distributed.

American Health Care Act Passes in the U.S. House of Representatives

Last Thursday, the most recent version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was voted through in the House of Representatives. The bill, which failed in the House in March after both conservatives and progressives rejected it, still has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), meaning that nobody understands what the effects of the bill could be.  

However, the CBO estimated that the original version of the bill would leave 24 million Americans uninsured who currently have insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and the amended version makes no promises to change that.

This bill, which has been criticized by the American Medical Association because it will result in millions losing health care coverage, would be extremely harmful to women, low income families, people living in rural areas, survivors of sexual or domestic violence, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and people with pre-existing conditions.

How will this bill affect women?

  • Women would bear a disproportionate impact of these cuts because they are not only the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries, but are also the primary utilizers of family planning and maternity care benefits, and are also much more likely to use Medicaid’s long-term services.
  • Medicaid provides health care for nearly half of all pregnant women, supporting them through their pregnancies and ensuring that their babies have a healthy start. In fact, Medicaid financed 31% of births in Nebraska in 2010.
  • The bill would allow states to opt out of the ACA’s Essential Health Benefits (EHB) standard, effectively allowing insurers to charge women much more than men by leaving many women without affordable access — or any access — to maternity coverage.
  • The bill would give states the option of allowing insurers to charge far higher premiums to people who are pregnant, have had a c-section, or were treated for injuries resulting from domestic violence.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration — your voice matters! Call Nebraska Senators Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse and tell them to oppose a law that will hurt Nebraskans. The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but the American Health Care Act will harm millions who will lose coverage.

If you’re not sure who is representing you, you can find your senator here. Do you have questions or need more information about any of the bills we mention? Please feel free to contact Michelle Zych, Executive Director at the Women’s Fund: MZych@omahawomensfund.org