State plane purchase advances; abortion clinic sign proposal heard

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February 27, 2014 - 5:29pm

The Nebraska Legislature took a step toward buying a new state airplane Thursday. Meanwhile the Judiciary Committee heard arguments about requiring clinics to post signs telling women they can’t be forced to have abortions.

The issue of buying a plane for the governor and other state officials to use has been up in the air since last year. Then, Gov. Dave Heineman proposed buying a used plane the state had been leasing from the University of Nebraska Foundation, for $2.2 million. The Legislature opted for a study instead.

That study said it would be more economical in the long run to buy a new plane for $3.8 million. Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, himself a pilot, is leading the effort to get the Legislature to authorize that purchase. His effort drew support from senators who said it’s important for the governor to be able to get around the state.

But Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers suggested a governor could use the plane to score political points by going to things like ribbon-cuttings. “The governorship is a highly political and politicized office. This plane can be used for campaign purposes,” Chambers said.

Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk was among those supporting the purchase. Scheer recalled that when he was a member of the State Board of Education, he had joined the governor and other officials flying to Scottsbluff to observe a school where students were doing exceptionally well in reading. “If we had not had the availability of that plane, that trip would never have taken place. And there are some innovations and changes to innovations that are directly attributed to that trip. So it’s not just the governor flying around cutting ribbons,” Scheer said.

Senators voted 31-3 to give the bill the first of three approvals it would need to be sent to the governor.

Thursday afternoon, the Judiciary Committee heard arguments for and against a bill by Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion requiring clinics to post signs telling women they can’t be forced to have abortions.

Olivia Gans Turner of American Victims of Abortion said she had an abortion under pressure from her boyfriend 33 years ago, but if there had been such a sign in the clinic, she might not have. Turner called the proposal reasonable and moderate. “It doesn’t force anyone to do anything except that it requires our abortion providers to put in place in this state some kind of protection so women who might be facing coercion, either from a parent, a counselor, a family member or a boyfriend, or perhaps the abortion staff itself, to think again and say ‘I don’t have to do this. I can make another decision,’” she said.

Alan Peterson opposed the bill on behalf of ACLU Nebraska. Peterson said courts have said freedom of speech includes the right to be silent. “I’ve got a right not to salute the flag. I’ve got a right not to say the Pledge of Allegiance. And people in this country have the right not to be the bearer of the government’s message by being forced to put on the wall of your house or your clinic or your hospital or whatever, something the government wants you to say,” he said.

The committee took no immediate action on the proposal.

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