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Mark Kolterman

Sen. Mark Kolterman

District 24

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Last week, I introduced Legislative Bill 975, the Child Welfare Services Preservation Act. Unfortunately, some media outlets have misrepresented my intentions in introducing this legislation, and have unfairly characterized me as a person.

To address the bill first, if one takes the time to read the text of LB975, he or she will notice it mentions nothing of sexual orientation or gender identity, nor does it prohibit any group of people from being foster parents and/or adopting children.

This bill is about Nebraska’s neediest children. Nebraska’s foster care and adoption system is already overburdened, and my intention with this legislation is to make sure we do not lose a single provider in our state. There are currently thousands of foster children awaiting permanent placement in safe, loving homes. We need all the safe, loving homes we can get, and we need all the foster care/adoption agencies we can get.

LB975 simply allows faith-based child-placing agencies to carry out their faith in everyday operation. As it stands, any family or individual who would like to open up their home to a foster child has the opportunity to partner with an agency that is a good fit for them. That will not change under this legislation. Actually, it ensures that the State of Nebraska continues to contract with a diverse array of private agencies to recruit diverse placement options. This bill would not take away anyone’s right to foster or adopt Nebraska’s neediest children. The State of Nebraska cannot afford to lose one safe and loving foster family.

Importantly, there are 21 agencies in Nebraska. Some work with a very broad demographic of families and individuals, and others work in more niche demographics. Some – roughly 25 percent – are faith-based. If these agencies are forced to choose between serving the neediest children of Nebraska and the very faith that prompted them to serve, they would have to choose their faith. We can all agree that children should not be punished and that we need to have as many service providers as we can serving our already under-served population. No agency should be forced to choose between abandoning their faith or abandoning the children and parents they serve.

Unfortunately, in the states of Massachusetts and Illinois, and in the District of Columbia, faith-based agencies have been forced to make that exact choice. The State of Nebraska cannot afford to lose one safe and loving foster family, and it cannot afford to lose any child-placing agencies. Chasing away faith-based agencies from serving in our communities undermines the best interests of children. My intent with LB975 is to make sure that we continue to maximize the number of safe and loving foster families.

Although some may be looking at this legislation differently, I hope they understand the spirit in which I am working on this legislation. Foster care agencies match up children and foster parents based on numerous factors, such as needs of the child, transportation requirements, availability of health care, skill level of foster parents, etc. Such an argument that this legislation is discriminatory implies that the State of Nebraska and its faith-based partners are more interested in discrimination than helping to place children desperately in need of a loving home. This bill, which does not prohibit child placement to any classification of persons, would ensure diversity in child placement and codify into state law a practice that has been successful for decades. Foster parents are independent contractors and can freely choose the agencies with which they are most comfortable. In fact, many of the families that are recruited to work with faith-based agencies agree to do so because of the agency’s alignment with a certain faith commitment. Maintaining a variety of child-placing agencies will ensure that children are placed according to their unique needs, whether faith is a part of their needs or not.

Despite all this I have received a number of attacks on my character. This saddens me for a number of reasons. First, that anyone would refer to me as “homophobic” and that my legislation “is a violation of human rights and also an indication of [my] lack of understanding among [my] constituents” is highly offensive. I have close friends and family who identify as members of the LGBT community. In fact, I have discussed this bill with some of those friends and family from District 24. One particular close friend of mine who is openly gay, after understanding the true intent of the bill, supports the idea for people to be able to ensure their religious liberty.

Additionally, if one’s intent is to stop hateful and hurtful behavior, it is beyond reason to engage in hateful and hurtful dialogue. I realize the issue of discrimination against the LGBT community can be a heated one. Although I assure that my intent is not to single out any group of people, I understand the objections before me. It is unfortunate that reasonable people in the midst of a heated issue get caught in the crossfire of unreasonable dialogue. If those who take issue with LB975 took the time to get to know me, I think they would realize that there isn’t a hateful or homophobic bone in my body.

My faith is a vital component of who I am. My family formed the cornerstone of my faith, and that faith tells me that everyone was lovingly made in the image and likeness of God and deserve respect and compassion no matter what they believe. But that faith has also taught me that we must not tolerate certain actions, such as name calling and disrespectful dialogue.

While some of our values may be different, I think it is crucial to engage in respectful dialogue and work together to embrace our differences. I always try to listen respectfully and understand all points of view. While we may disagree about how to get there, I believe our goals are the same: to have safe and loving environments for kids. So how do we get there?

My question is, where is the balance? Opponents of LB975 have stated that the bill is discriminatory and wish to protect the right of LGBT families to adopt and foster children. LGBT families would still be able to foster or adopt children in Nebraska. This legislation preserves in law Nebraska’s longstanding public/private partnership with a diverse group of private secular and faith-based agencies that work side-by-side to respond to the critical need to find permanent loving homes for children. I don’t believe that the interests of upholding adoption rights for all families (LGBT families included) and upholding religious liberty are mutually exclusive. Unfortunately though, there are some who believe upholding religious liberty inherently interferes with LGBT rights. I believe that there can be a balance where all Nebraskans are allowed to act according to their deeply held beliefs. At times, this will require some to respectfully disagree with others. To force one’s hand either way is poor public policy. Child-placing agencies should be treated fairly and not targeted or punished by the government because of their beliefs. This applies equally to all agencies, and it applies to all individuals.

Balance can only be maintained if opposing sides can work together to find common ground. The common ground here is to find loving, safe homes for Nebraska’s foster children. Getting all foster children into loving homes is my goal, and it’s one I hope we can all get behind. With such a great need in our state, I hope there are many more families in Nebraska who will step up and foster and adopt our neediest children regardless of their particular beliefs.

Sen. Mark Kolterman

District 24
Room 1101
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2756
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