Bioscience jobs, problem pregnancies, sex trafficking discussed in Legislature


March 28th, 2017

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks discusses sex trafficking (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Proposals to stimulate bio-science businesses, help parents with problem pregnancies, and increase penalties for sex trafficking were among measures considered by the Nebraska Legislature Tuesday.

Sen. Adam Morfeld is the sponsor of the bioscience proposal, which would allocate up to $2 million a year to support businesses in fields including biofuels, biotechnology, medicine, health and pharmaceuticals.

Morfeld said startup companies in those fields need capital, and have a lot of growth potential.

“Although the biotech industry is a small part of Nebraska’s economy currently, there’s great potential for statewide growth through development of our core industry strengths in the bioagriculture and biomedical sectors,” Morfeld said. “These biotech companies are evenly disbursed throughout the state and pay approximately 50 percent more than the average Nebraska wage or about $68,000 annually.”

Sen. Paul Schumacher objected to picking one industry to benefit from a program to the exclusion of others, and suggested companies should get their funding from the private sector.

“Granted, $2 million isn’t a lot of money in the scheme of things. Now it is, supposedly, when we’re starting to cut all kinds of social programs – it’s a big deal then — a few hundred thousand dollars is a big deal,” Schumacher said. “But this is from an industry that is very well-heeled. It is highly profitable. In order to invest in this type of low-level activity and entrepreneurship and whatever, then they should do it.”

Morfeld said the program would not use state general funds, but rather, federal funds that were given to the state to help it recover from the Great Recession. Senators gave the bill first-round approval on a vote of 31-2.

On another subject, senators considered a proposal by Sen. Joni Albrecht to promote counseling and medical care known as “perinatal hospice” to pregnant woman whose unborn child has been diagnosed with a lethal fetal abnormality. Albrecht said people who get such news often feel adrift.

“Perinatal hospice is an innovative and compassionate model of support for families who find out a pregnancy has a life-limiting condition. The support helps parents embrace whatever life their baby might be able to have, and also enables families to make meaningful plans to honor their child. This care begins at diagnosis and continues through the baby’s birth and death,” Albrecht said.

The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to post information on perinatal hospice programs on its website, and give physicians the option of telling patients about it. It got first round approval on a vote of 38-0.

Also on Tuesday, senators began debating a proposal to increase penalties for human trafficking. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, who acknowledged it goes in the opposite direction from other legislation she has supported.

“I have spent clearly most of my time in the Legislature working hard to avoid increasing penalties in most instances,” Pansing Brooks said. “However, we’re not talking about nonviolent drug crimes which are currently clogging our prisons. We’re talking about one of the most heinous crimes, short of murder, to be imposed on a victim.”

Sen. Burke Harr said no one wants to stand up for sex traffickers. But he said the proposal goes against the state’s efforts at prison reform.

“This is about principle. We have prisons that are overflowing. We two years ago initiated new legislation that lowered the sentences. And we said ‘We’ve got to do something.’ And we did something. And we said we’d ratcheted up our sentences too much. So we had to take a breath and we had to step back, and we reassessed,” Harr said. “Well, here we are folks: This is the first break in the dam.”

The Legislature adjourned for the day without reaching a first-round vote on the bill.

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