After several hours of debate, the Nebraska Legislature voted Wednesday to put off until next year consideration of a bill banning employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.
Sen. Adam Morfeld led off debate on the legislation he sponsored, LB586, to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. "We have a problem. In Nebraska, someone can be fired or not hired for simply being gay. LB586 would prohibit firing someone because they are gay or transgender," Morfeld said.
Sen. Colby Coash said he had been skeptical that the lack of such a law in Nebraska was a big deal, until he talked to employers and potential employees. "What they shared with me is that this truly matters to those workers. That they are losing workers based on this issue," Coash said. Similarly, when he asked people who were about to enter the workforce, "They looked me in the eye and they say ‘Yes, this is important to me as I look to decide where I begin my career,’" he added.
Sen. Bill Kintner said the bill was unnecessary. "Free market solves this stuff. If you discriminate and you’re not a good place, people won’t come there," he said. "This is not a job for government to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and everyone’s happy. If we have a problem with discrimination, let me know. But we don’t have a problem right now. We just have people that aren’t comfortable."
Sen. Matt Williams opposed the bill, but urged his colleagues to be careful debating it. "This issue is very emotional for some, and it should be. Very personal for some, and it should be. But we are here today as public servants and policymakers. And I would request that we all, as my mother used to say, take a deep breath. Count to ten. Think before you speak. And be careful with those words we choose that could be hurtful," Williams said.
Supporting the bill, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks acknowledged the issue is personal for her. "My son is gay. I have watched him be discriminated against in this state. So say ‘Don’t make it personal.’ Say ‘Keep the tone reasonable and kind.’ Which of you, if your child were being discriminated against, would keep it reasonable?" she asked.
Sen. Dave Bloomfield said he, too, had a personal stake, but would probably not support the bill. "I have a grandson who’s openly gay, and another grandson from a different family who’s transgender, or working on being transgender at this point. That’s a big share of the reason I’ve sat here and been quiet. But everybody’s got a dog in this hunt," Bloomfield said.
Sen. Sara Howard predicted future legislators would be surprised that current day senators had been divided over the bill, which she supported. "A state where you can be fired for who you are is not one that fuels the diversity that we need for the robust economic growth that our constituents are interested in. And it’s not one that encourages young people like myself to stay," Howard said.
But Sen. Lydia Brasch, opposing the bill, said people leave Nebraska for a whole range of reasons. "My classmates have left because a), they love to climb mountains. They live by the mountains," she said. "Some of them live by the ocean. The ocean is meaningful. Several of them are not winter people – I’ve heard that so many times as they’ve moved to Texas, California, Florida."
After several hours of debate, Sen. Bob Krist moved to bracket the bill until the end of the session, meaning it would not come up again for debate. Senators approved that on a vote of 26-18, with Morfeld promising to bring up a similar proposal next year.