After spending most of the morning session debating a measure that would allow treatment of a patient's partner for specific sexually transmitted infections, the Legislature advanced the bill Wednesday.
The sponsor of the bill (LB528), Omaha Sen. Sara Howard, said that while she wasn't thrilled about being the cause of more than five hours of debate on chlamydia and gonorrhea, she was glad the Legislature was talking about such an important public health issue.
The bill would allow expedited partner therapy for the treatment of gonorrhea and chlamydia, permitting physicians, physician's assistants or advanced practice registered nurses who diagnose sexually transmitted diseases to prescribe medication to those patients' partners without examination.
The debate rose or fell (depending on how you look at it) to a level that had one senator -- Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial -- declaring a vote for the bill was an endorsement of statutory rape and would cause promiscuity, and another -- Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers -- saying he'd never heard such "claptrap" on the floor in all his days in the Legislature, which number nearly 14,000.
Howard said the bill wasn't about promiscuity, but about healthy families and giving babies the chance to be born healthy and disease-free.
The bill would ensure the therapy would be done in accordance with recommendations and guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Medication would be prescribed only for partners unable or unwilling to go in for treatment -- and only if they were named.
Senators defeated an amendment, offered by Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy, on a 15-27 vote that would have made medical providers who participated in expedited partner therapy immune from civil liability.
Howard told senators she had no idea the bill would be so controversial.
Last year, a bill on the same topic failed by only a few votes, she said later. This year, she brought medical providers, pharmacists and lawyers together and wrote the bill so they all were comfortable with it.
One compromise was to remove the immunity provision and to outline the standard of care for expedited partner therapy so that if providers didn't follow that standard, they would be open for potential liability.
"However, they felt that that was defensible, so they were comfortable with that compromise," she said.
It's stunning how many people in her Omaha district, Douglas County and the state are infected with chlamydia and gonorrhea, she said.
"I work at a health clinic, and we see this problem every day," Howard said. "When providers are telling me they need the opportunity to use expedited partner therapy, I want to help them 100 percent."
Senators advanced the bill to a second round of debate on a 32-3 vote.