A bill that had been amended to address discrimination based on sexual orientation has been effectively killed in the Nebraska Legislature, but discussion of the issue continues. Meanwhile, a preliminary budget is released, and a senator has apologized for driving under the influence.
Tuesday, there was intense discussion as lawmakers voted to prohibit organizations that discriminate based on sexual orientation from using McCook work camp inmates on the job. That was an amendment offered by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers to a bill by Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial whose original purpose was simply to let work camp inmates work for nonprofit, charitable and fraternal organizations. Wednesday, Christensen said he wanted to pass over his bill. "It’s dead," he declared.
There was no discussion on the legislative floor. But in an interview with NET News a few minutes later, Christensen said his decision reflected a lot of phone calls from pastors and other people in his district. "Everybody hated the bill now. They didn’t want to go that direction," he said.
In a separate interview, Chambers said public reaction shouldn’t be the determining factor in such cases. "On as important an issue as this, for him to say it’s based on the number of calls he go or the kind of calls -- I presume that if the calls had been favorable, then he would have agreed and been favorable to what had been done," Chambers said, facetiously.
Although he mentioned religious objections to homosexuality Tuesday, Christensen said Wednesday he had a more mundane objection to the nondiscrimination language.
"I don’t have a problem with sexual orientation. I had a gay guy work for me in my business before. I knew it, never asked him about it. Doesn’t matter to me. He was a good worker. We went on, it didn’t matter," Christensen said.
But he added he is concerned that if the antidiscrimination language passed, it would be another legal recourse for someone who didn’t want to work. "He can say ‘I’m gay, and you fired me because I’m gay,’ and you’re going to go through this lawsuit, and all this problem, all because he don’t want to work, and he’s trying to find a quick way to get a buck," Christensen said.
Chambers didn’t buy that argument, either. "This has nothing to do with business. This has to do with a state-sponsored program not permitting participation – by that I meant exploitation of free convict labor – if they discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation," he said. "They can run their business any way they want to. But they cannot, while being discriminatory, gain the benefits of a state-sponsored program.
Although Christensen’s move effectively kills his bill for this year, the issue of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is not going away. LB485, a separate bill dealing directly with that issue sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, is tentatively scheduled for a public hearing before the Judiciary Committee March 14.
Also on Wednesday, the Appropriations Committee introduced its preliminary budget recommendations. At this point, they total about $4 million less than Gov. Dave Heineman’s recommendations over the next two years -- a difference of about .05 percent in a $7.8 billion budget.
Among the major differences, the committee is recommending almost $26 million less than the governor did for the University of Nebraska. Heineman had recommended a major increase for the University, in exchange for an agreement to freeze tuition for the next two years.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha said the committee still has questions for the university. "Literally a week after the governor released his budget, the Board of Regents chose to ultimately increase room and board fees -- a sizeable fee increase on room and board students," Mello said, adding that he expect committee members will quiz university officials about that in a public hearing in about two weeks.
And Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh apologized after being ticketed for driving under the influence of alcohol. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said Lautenbaugh was stopped around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning near the Omaha city limits at 147th and Maple streets after driving erratically. His blood alcohol content was .234; the legal limit is .08.. The office said his blood alcohol content was .234; the legal limit is .08.
In a statement, Lautenbaugh said he is embarrassed and takes full responsibility. He said he will seek an immediate alcohol evaluation, follow its recommendations, accept his punishment and work to put this behind him. I apologize to my family and everyone else I have disappointed with this incident." "I apologize to my family and everyone else I have disappointed with this incident," Lautenbaugh said.