The Anti-Discrimination Bill for LGBT Nebraskans Rejected by the Senators

LB 586 which was proposed to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was wiped out by Nebraska lawmakers by attaining a vote of 26-18 on March 23, 2016.

The bill would have made it illegal for the employers to terminate the employees based on their sexual identity. Currently, the law prohibits the discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, disability, marital status or national origin.

Based on the votes, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska decided that it will explore the legal and policy options, in order to protect the employment rights of all Nebraskans.

LB 586 was pulled by the legislative backers in 2015 from the agenda after it became apparent that they lacked the votes to advance it.

The floor debate was launched with greater optimism by Senator Adam Morfeld. He casted the issue as one of “doing the right thing” and also regarded it good for the business. According to him, the protection offered by the bill was important for attracting as well as for keeping good employees.

On the other hand, opponents were of the view that there was no requirement for a bill as it would create a new burden on small businesses and would be a failure to cure the discrimination.

Similarly, in the opinion of Senator Bill Kintner of Papillion, the bill was an inappropriate measure as it could interfere with the employee’s right to free expression of their religious beliefs and would also force them to act against their own conscience and also suggested that people who do not feel comfortable in the state should leave.

During the floor debate, one of the lawmakers urged his colleagues to keep the debate on a professional level and avoided making it too personal. However, others stated that the issue was unavoidably personal because of family, friends and co-workers who are gay.

One of the two African Americans in the Legislature, Senator Ernie Chambers of Omaha, stated that he was in favor of the bill in part due to his own experiences with discrimination and also criticized the lawmakers who defeated or minimized discrimination involving sexual orientation or gender bias.

In response to the opponents, the Chambers’ commented “who said they have not seen evidence of widespread workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity”. Moreover, Senator Beau McCoy of Omaha also believed that Nebraskans hire and fire people based on whether they are good workers.

Senator Colby Coash of Lincoln, who abstained from the Judiciary Committee vote to advance LB 586, said that his thoughts on the bill evolved after he interacted with the business leaders, workers and potential employees and also stated that during the interaction they told him that the kind of protection offered by LB 586 was important to employees as well as to businesses.

LB 586 had support from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and more than 200 individual Nebraska businesses. Some 270 religious leaders also signed a statement of support, although the bill faced opposition from other religious groups, particularly the Roman Catholic Church.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Morfeld, said that he would again propose the bill in the next session hoping for a different result.

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