Nebraska could get new weapon for fighting STDs -
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Nebraska could get new weapon for fighting STDs

LINCOLN — State lawmakers adopted Thursday a new weapon in attacking sexually transmitted diseases, which have been at epidemic levels in the state's largest county.

Nebraska health care providers would be able to prescribe antibiotics for the sexual partners of patients infected with chlamydia or gonorrhea under a bill given final approval by the Nebraska Legislature.

Such prescriptions could be made without the partner seeing a doctor.

Legislative Bill 528 was among several bills given final approval Thursday. All advance to Gov. Dave Heineman, who has the option of approving or vetoing the measures.

The bill on sexually transmitted diseases passed on a 37-9 vote, overcoming criticism that it represented bad policy and would promote sexual promiscuity.

Backers of the bill, sponsored by State Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha, said it would help stem the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases in Douglas County, which has the highest rate of chlamydia infections in the nation. In 2011, Nebraska as a whole ranked worse than 31 other states for gonorrhea cases.

The measure would help some partners overcome the economic and social barriers encountered in getting treatment, proponents say. They said that if sexual partners aren't treated, they become candidates to reinfect their partner, thus refueling the epidemic.

Howard has said that her bill would also improve the health of newborn babies. Children born to mothers infected with chlamydia and gonorrhea are at risk for blindness and potentially deadly infections, as well as premature birth.

Among the other bills given final approval Thursday were:

— LB 79, which repealed the state's campaign finance limitation act. It had been declared unconstitutional by the courts as a restriction on free speech. The act limited how much state political candidates could spend on their campaigns, and distributed funds to some candidates to help them compete with more highly-financed candidates. That money will now be used to computerize the state's campaign finance reporting system.

The bill initially called for lowering the threshold at which political contributions must be reported, from the current $250 to $100, but that was stripped from the bill.

Another aspect amended out would have required candidates to submit a periodic report of bank balances in campaign funds.

Proponents of that clause, which included the political watchdog group Common Cause, said such reporting might have led to earlier detection of cases like that of former Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, who was convicted of using campaign funds to gamble at casinos.

— LB 271. Nebraska voters would have a 30-day period prior to an election to vote early at a county office, rather than the current 35 days, under the bill. It was passed to address a complaint last year that equipment allowing the visually impaired to vote was not immediately ready to use for early voting, in violation of federal election laws.

— LB 612 and LB 629. The measures require the governor's office and the State Department of Revenue to provide more information to state lawmakers about the costs and benefits of state economic incentive programs.

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