Nebraska Legislature begins debate on transgender youth bill at center of filibuster

State senator’s efforts to bring LB574 to the Unicameral floor put Nebraska in the national spotlight.
Debate will continue Wednesday on a bill regarding transgender care for Nebraska's youth.
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 6:33 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Debate is finally underway on the bill that brought the Nebraska Legislature to a halt for weeks.

State senators began discussing LB574, known as the “Let Them Grow Act,” on Tuesday morning. The bill introduced by State Sen. Kathleen Kauth would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth — a controversial bill that prompted fellow Omaha State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh to engage in a filibuster that made national headlines.

Nebraska State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha
Nebraska State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha

For several weeks, Cavanaugh delivered on her promise to filibuster other bills on the agenda until the Speaker of the Legislature agreed last week to schedule the debate on LB574 for this week.

Things got very heated Tuesday when 27 Republican senators voted to end debate on a motion that would have basically killed the bill despite the fact only a handful of senators had been able to speak on the motion — and that the chair had said there had not been full and fair debate.

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha did not mince words.

“What just happened, colleagues, is the most insane precedent I have ever experienced in this body,” she said during Tuesday’s session. “...we had like five people talk on a motion with about 3 hours of people in the queue to speak. Sen. Slama used her first opportunity to speak to call the question on the motion that only a few people had gotten to speak on, the chair rightly said: ‘Nah, nah, nah. We have not had everybody had a chance to speak yet’; and she motioned to overrule the chair... And all of you went along with it. Who runs this body? Who’s making the decisions for you? Are you proud of yourselves? Do you think you’re comporting yourself as statespeople? Do you think you’re giving the respect to this institution that you were sent here to preserve?”

Hunt said she specifically took issue with the new precedent the action had set and chastised her fellow lawmakers.

“Great job guys. Good work. Well done colleagues. Now when four, five, or six people have spoken on a motion or an amendment or a bill — however dilatory you might think it is; however substantive — now we have a precedent that someone can call the question and steamroll three hours of debate. Well done,” she said.

Debate began today on a transgender care bill that held up business in the unicameral for weeks.

Republicans in the Unicameral said they wanted to debate the bill itself, not the motion that would have essentially killed it.

“I think that if we’re going to have time to debate in good faith on compromises that could be attached to this bill, we must move to overrule the chair, handle the IPP, and move on with debate,” said State Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling. “That is why I brought the motion. this is so that we can have a substantive debate on the baseline bill.”

Debate over the bill itself included varying perspectives on its real intentions.

“As I considered this debate, I constantly reminded myself that this bill is about protecting kids and in truth protecting themselves from their own young and immature minds,” said State Sen. R. Brad von Gillern of Elkhorn. “There’s testimony today that seeks to imply that loving the individual is impossible if we disagree with them. I just want to say out loud: I hate that. Not everything that a child wants for themselves is good for them. We don’t let a kid eat candy every meal because we know it’s harmful. We don’t let them choose whether to attend school or not. We don’t let them jump off the roof because they think they’re a superhero.”

Others don’t see the same correlations, particularly from the perspective of the LGBTQ+ community, and called the proposed legislation a throwback to the sorts of discrimination seen in decades past.

“I think if this were actually about protecting kids, I think the conversation we would be having would be something along the lines of ‘How can we ensure that these kids are getting the best support available?’” said State Sen. John Frederickson of Omaha. “This is a recycled playbook. A lot of these things were said in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s about gay people — this idea that we were somehow confused, we’ll grow out of it, it’s just a phase. We don’t know who we are. ... It’s insulting.”

State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn said disagreed with the notion that the bill was discriminatory in nature, and said that even with the best of intentions, doctors are still human.

“I have eight grandchildren and the oldest is about to become a teenager. Unless I am missing something, they are very far from mature enough to make these kinds of decisions,” she said Tuesday. “...In my heart, it’s not about being judgmental about the LGBTQ community — I’m not. I think people should be who they are; and yes, I think we should love everyone for who they are. But I’m very concerned about ... someone said don’t we trust doctors — not necessarily. I’m sorry. I trust (that) doctors are human. Some of them are wonderful, great servants; some of them not so much. They’re just as human as the rest of us.”

State Sen. Jen Day of Omaha noted that the medical community also is widely opposed to LB574.

“The Nebraska Medical Association is opposed to this bill. The American Medical Association is opposed to this bill. The American Academy of Pediatrics is opposed to this bill. The American Psychological Association is opposed to this bill. Every major medical organization is opposed to this bill,” she said. “Doctors are telling us not to do this. Why do we as legislators think that we know better? Why do we feel it is our job to step into the middle of the very crucial patient/physician relationship and insert ourselves into that? We have no expertise in this area.”

Senators will take up LB574 again on Wednesday.

Committee hearings are set to wrap up on Friday.