'Heartbeat Bill' and Lighter Gun Restrictions on Nebraska Lawmakers' Agenda at Short Session

A "heartbeat bill" and looser gun restrictions are among the items on Nebraska lawmakers' agenda at a new short session that started Wednesday.

The 60-day session will look at a measure that would permit residents to carry a concealed handgun without needing to meet the current requirements of a background check, a $100 fee, and an eight- to 16-hour class on gun safety. With the exception of Colorado, all of Nebraska's neighbors have similar "constitutional carry" laws.

Senator Tom Brewer said he has met with law enforcement groups over the past few months to address some of their worries. This bill is his "priority bill," he said, making it more likely for lawmakers to debate it.

"I think we're in a pretty good place," he said. "There are a lot of players that have tried to come together to make a bill that is reasonable."

Lawmakers will also consider a bill that would prohibit anyone from performing an abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be found, which is akin to laws in 15 other states. However, courts have blocked all but the ones in Texas and Oklahoma.

"Nebraska is a pro-life state," said Republican Senator Julie Slama, who introduced the bill with 20 cosponsors. The measure "is an absolute necessity to protect innocent life," Slama said.

With modern medical technology, flutters can be sensed as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. This early in the pregnancy, medical professionals don't consider the embryo, which doesn't have a heart, a fetus yet.

Abortion opponents in Nebraska and beyond hope a legal challenge will occur in the U.S. Supreme Court, ending the right to abortion given in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Legislative Session, Nebraska, Heartbeat Bill, Concealed Carry
Nebraska's new short legislative session will have lawmakers debate prison policy, social issues, state spending and taxes. Above, Nebraska's Capitol building in Lincoln is shown. Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/ Getty Images

The short session will feature debates over taxes, prison policy, state spending and social issues. Lawmakers introduced 107 bills and two proposed constitutional amendments on their first day, foreshadowing a busy and likely heated session.

"We have a lot to do this year," said Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers, of Lincoln.

Another state lawmaker, Democratic Senator Megan Hunt, introduced a competing bill that would allow health professionals such as advanced practice nurses, physician assistants and certified midwives to offer abortions in an effort to increase access statewide. The bill is likely a long shot in the Legislature, which has a long history of enacting tougher abortion restrictions.

Lawmakers are expected to spend a good amount of time deciding how to spend $1.04 billion in pandemic assistance money from the federal government. Republican Senator John Stinner, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said some lawmakers want to use the money for mental health services, economic development and workforce needs to address Nebraska's severe labor shortage.

The session will also coincide with more than a half dozen political campaigns of senators seeking a different office.

State Senator Carol Blood, a Democrat, and Senator Brett Lindstrom, a Republican, are running for governor. Senator Tony Vargas, of Omaha, is running as a Democrat for Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, and Democratic Senator Patty Pansing Brooks is vying for the 1st District.

Meanwhile, Hilgers, a Republican, has announced plans to run for attorney general, while Senator Matt Hansen of Lincoln is running for Lancaster County Clerk, while Senator Adam Morfeld of Lincoln hopes to become Lancaster County Attorney. Both Hansen and Morfeld are Democrats.

Senator Matt Williams, of Gothenburg, is running for University of Nebraska Regent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.