Nebraska senators advance bill to encourage organ donations

By ANNA GRONEWOLD

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska Legislature easily advanced a bill to encourage drivers to be organ donors despite a six-hour debate about “forced speech” and misleading language.

Lawmakers voted 32-8 Tuesday on a measure by Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier that would require applicants for drivers’ licenses or ID cards to answer whether or not they would like to be an organ donor.

When Nebraskans register for licenses or ID cards, answering the question is optional. Only 55 percent of Nebraska drivers elect to be organ donors, and Watermeier said in states where a yes or no answer is mandatory, 60 to 68 percent of people choose to be donors.

Watermeier said the bill “will save lives, plain and simple.”

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha vehemently opposed the measure, arguing that the bill is not about the value of organ donation, but about which decisions the state should compel an individual to make to obtain their rights.

“Being withheld something based on whether or not you reply, that is forced speech,” he said.

Supporters say that a single organ donor can save up to eight lives, and more Nebraskans would participate if they truly considered the question.

“We have an obligation to protect the government of which we are a part. I don’t care what kind of tear-jerking stories are brought here,” Chambers said. “I’m going to do my job.”

Sen. Dave Bloomfield questioned whether an estimated 5 percent increase in organ donors is enough to justify requiring an answer. Bloomfield also said he worried teenagers are not prepared to make rational choices about their bodies under pressure in line at the DMV.

“This is a decision you should make within your own soul, within your own conscience. It is not a decision you should be compelled to make,” he said.

Watermeier added an amendment that would offer a third option to the question: choose not to answer. If an applicant left the answer blank, he or she would still be able to continue with the process of obtaining a license or ID.

But opponents called the amendment sloppy and misleading, because the question would remain in the mandatory portion of the application.

“There’s got to be a better way to do this,” said Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher. “It is tremendously well intentioned and it probably would save the state a lot of money, but it’s doing so in a way that perverts a lot of the values that we have.”

Watermeier promised to work on the bill’s language before the next round of debate, which can last up to four hours.

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