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A freshman senator from North Platte launched a filibuster Wednesday of a bill that would require Nebraska students to be vaccinated against meningitis.

"Parents heed their doctors. Parents heed the health clinic, and those that don't are free to do so — that's called freedom," first-year Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said in opposing the bill.

Groene proposed eight amendments to the bill (LB18), including one that would effectively gut it, according to its sponsor, Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha. That amendment would eliminate the vaccination requirement and instead instruct high schools to provide new students and their parents with information about the vaccine.

Nineteen senators supported a similar amendment Groene introduced last week. That wasn't enough to amend the bill but is more than enough to sustain a filibuster.

Many senators, including Groene, said they aren't against vaccinations, but they oppose government mandates — especially when meningitis cases in Nebraska don't appear to be rising.

"Our family doctors and pediatricians do a great job educating parents on vaccinations and most importantly when to administer them," Groene said. "When it comes to bacterial meningitis vaccination, the system has worked well (with) no mandate needed."

A measles outbreak in the United States this winter brought the vaccination issue back onto the national stage. Measles is highly contagious and killed 145,700 people worldwide in 2013, according to the World Health Organization.

"It's not measles," Krist said of meningitis, "but how you describe this infectious disease being transmitted from one human being to another — it is our teenagers. For the first time in their life, they're playing kissy-face. They're experimenting with their sexual being."

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion said Groene might be a "transformational" figure in the Legislature.

"He's doing the Lord's work here," Kintner said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com. On Twitter @zachamiLJS.

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Assistant city editor

Zach Pluhacek is an assistant city editor.

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