By Leeanna Ellis, Editor, Pilot Tribune and Enterprise —
As the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed, state Sen. Ben Hansen wants to make sure Nebraska residents have a choice.
“I think 2020 was pretty eye opening for me about what our government can mandate, what they can do, what they should or should not do in my opinion,” he said.
While Hansen said he doesn't expect the state to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, he said he wanted to take a proactive approach, which in part led to his introduction of Legislative Bill 643, which would protect an individual's right to accept or decline a vaccination under a mandatory directive.
The bill isn't against vaccines, Hansen said.
“This is more of a personal liberty issue, so in case something does roll out say two years down the road and we have a different governor or four years and we have something else happen,” he said. “We're just protecting people's individual rights, their parental rights and businesses from being forced to vaccinate themselves or their employees by the government.”
Passage of the bill would not mean businesses couldn't mandate their employees get vaccinated.
“If the hospital says everyone has to get vaccinated or you can't work here, OK, that's their right. It's the employees' right to work there or not too,” Hansen said. “I just don't want the government mandating that they have to. No matter how good or bad the vaccine is, it's just a matter of choice and liberty.”
Hansen announced his plans to introduce the bill on his Facebook page on Jan. 16 and received overwhelming support on the issue. Hansen said he was also encouraged by the support he has received from his fellow senators.
“This isn't a Democrat or Republican thing really,” he said. “It's more of a liberty issue.”
The bill has been referred to the Health and Human Services Committee, which Hansen serves on.
Hansen also introduced a bill imposing stiffer penalties on elected officials who violate directed health measures they enact.
Hansen said LB 645 would target governors and mayors. He used California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has been photographed unmasked and in close quarters with a large number of people at a dinner party, as an example. Newsom issued a mask mandate for California in June.
“We're trying to read the tea leaves and just make sure we hold the right people accountable,” Hansen said. “If you're going to make a directed health measure that can affect the livelihood of business owners, put them out of business or the ability for people to feed their family, but then you go ahead and break that (measure), I think there should be an enhanced fine for that person signing that.”
Criminal penalties would go up one classification for a violation, while fines would triple the amount otherwise set.
Other bills Hansen introduced included:
• LB 435: Require an official watermark on certain ballots under the Election Act. This would add another layer of protection to maintain the integrity of the election, Hansen said.
“This is just one measure we can take to give people confidence in the people they elect. If we lose confidence in the people we elect, we lose confidence in the laws that they make. If we lose confidence in the laws they make, a lot of times we don't follow them because we don't think they are real laws and then that can lead to issue we don't want to go down,” he said.
• LB 173: Change provisions relating to carrying a concealed weapon.
• LB 296: Change provisions regarding access to patient records for Department of Health and Human Services institutions.
• LB 301: Change drug schedules and penalties and adopt federal drug provisions under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.
• LB 436: Change provisions of the Athletic Training Practice Act.
• LB 437: Change provisions relating to public assistance and medicaid fraud.
• LB 581: Change motorcycle, moped and autocycle helmet provisions.
• LB 644: Adopt the Property Tax Request Act.