Nebraska lawmakers moved closer Tuesday to voting on a proposal to combat high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, despite some lawmakers' questions about the thinking behind the proposal.
In Douglas County last year, there were more than 4,000 cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea. And the Douglas County Health Department says for at least the last 14 years before that, the rate of infection in the county, which includes Omaha, has been substantially higher than the national average.
The state Department of Health and Human Services says the rate is lower than both Douglas County's and the national average in most other Nebraska counties, but every county had at least one case last year.
Omaha Sen. Sara Howard is sponsoring a bill that tries to address the problem. Her legislation would let someone who is infected visit and doctor and take home a prescription not only for her or himself, but for her or his sexual partner or partners who cannot or will not visit the doctor.
Howard says an important goal is to keep that partner from re-infecting the person with chlamydia or gonorrhea, which can have especially serious consequences if a woman becomes pregnant. "Both diseases can be transmitted to the baby. Gonorrhea can cause a miscarriage which is absolutely what we don’t want to have happen in this state. And finally, and for me worst of all, both of these diseases can attach to the eye sockets of the fetus, and have a baby be born not only with an eye infection, but also blind. And all of this is preventable," Howard said.
Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial said he did not understand the thinking behind giving prescriptions to people who won’t visit a doctor. "If your partner doesn’t want to go, why would they be your partner? If they don’t care enough to take care of themselves, don’t care enough to take care of you, why would you want to be with them? Some of the logic of this, I just can’t understand," he declared.
Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop responded. "I was listening to Sen. Christensen speak about how if these people would just avoid sex, we wouldn’t have this problem. And I thought, y’know, there’s a lot of things that cause health problems that we still address," Lathrop said. "We are dealing with the consequences of people who choose to smoke. We don’t say we’re not going to invest money in cancer research – or by the way, a cancer hospital up in Omaha – because those people all got there with some lifestyle choice."
Lawmakers accepted an amendment from Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy to require sending home information about the diseases along with the prescriptions. McCoy withdrew another amendment that would have taken gonorrhea out of the bill. He said he was satisfied the Department of Health and Human Services, in drafting regulations to implement the bill, would take into account that some strains of that disease are becoming resistant to oral antibiotics and may require injections.
Lawmakers adjourned for the day without reaching a vote on the bill.