Nebraska Legislature votes to attach abortion amendment to youth trans care bill
More than 5-1/2 hours after debate over final reading began, LB574 passed cloture before being sent back to second round, voted again into final
An early start Tuesday afternoon to the debate over Nebraska’s bill to ban gender-affirming care for youth gave way to a late day anyway when it was stalled several times as rule challenges arose among the state senators — including whether or not the 12-week abortion ban amendment was germane to LB574.
Debate on LB574 began around 2:40 p.m. After several process motions along the way, the cloture vote finally passed just before 8 p.m.
It passed 33-14, with one not voting. That tally included a “yes” vote from State Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston, who didn’t vote on the six-week abortion ban, effectively killing LB676 in its cloture vote. But he had also filed an amendment to LB676 to change the ban to 12 weeks.
Just after the cloture vote, security was asked to clear the balcony as yelling could be heard over the mic.
A few minutes later, the senators then voted 33-15 to formally attach AM1658.
LB574 then returned to select file — the second round of debate — because of the amendment; senators then voted to move it forward to its final reading before adjourning for the day at about 8:15 p.m.
Remember, the bill is being filibustered — as has every bill this session — so cloture was the first true test. Had they not obtained 33 votes in favor of cloture, the bill would have been dead. The 33 votes mean the bills live to see another day.
Legislative rules say there must be a day between second- and third-round votes, so the earliest the Unicameral would be able to debate LB574′s final reading again is Thursday — though it could get scheduled later.
“Our kids are our future, and the advancement of LB574 is an important step in protecting that future. I applaud the senators who voted for LB574 and stood up for our commonsense, conservative values. I am proud to have partnered with conservative senators in this fight and look forward to signing the bill upon final passage.”
“We are saddened by but not deterred by today’s vote by lawmakers who want to take away the rights of the people who they represent. But this fight is far from over. For now, abortion and gender affirming care remain safe and legal in Nebraska and our residents have the right to control their bodies, families and futures. And we won’t stop until we win this fight for Nebraskans today and for generations to come.”
TWO HOURS TURN INTO SEVERAL
The bill, accompanied by an abortion ban amendment, was once again before Nebraska lawmakers — hours ahead of schedule. But the first challenge came not long after it started Tuesday.
Previously, debate had been expected to start sometime after 7 p.m. and last for a couple of hours. Instead, debate began around 2:40 p.m. and is expected to go no longer than two hours since the bill is on its final reading. But the clock has been stopped periodically as senators discuss rules and procedures.
Just before 5 p.m., LB574 debate resumed as a motion to return it to the judiciary committee failed. The way things are unfolding, it’s possible they might get to a vote around 7 p.m., but it will depend on whether any more rules challenges arise.
But within minutes from when a cloture vote was expected, another such challenge — this one on whether abortion amendment AM1658 should have been allowed to be attached to the trans youth care bill — was put forward. Ultimately the motion to separate failed, and debate on LB574 proceeded around 7:30 p.m.
While debating the rules — and every senator is allowed to have a say if they want — that time isn’t included in the debate on the bill. But some speaking during the debate over such motions have noted that the clock was running on process matters during the first read of LB574, particularly during the filibuster.
This has been an odd session.
Not only is this an intricate bill, but it’s also a very complex situation that is unfolding at the state capitol. Even rules and processes have been up for discussion during Tuesday’s debate — it’s something that’s been happening all session long.
The minority party members, Democrats, say Republicans in the Unicameral just keep changing the rules — rules that were set at the top of the session — and when something doesn’t fit them, they change it again.
“We are governing in a win-at-all-costs atmosphere,” said State Sen. Jen Day of Omaha. “Our bill fails, we’re going to bring back a similar bill as an amendment on another bill. And then when the opposition attempts to do their work, we’re going to change the rules so that they can’t.”
State Sen. Carol Blood said AM1658 was not a compromise, as State Sen. Kathleen Kauth — who also authored LB574 — and other senators had argued Tuesday afternoon, and had been very poorly written. Other senators pointed out that better legislation on healthcare matters would include insight and consultation from medical experts, and still others voiced concern about whether such a law would withstand scrutiny from the courts.
Sen. Kauth said the bill would “save the lives of children from a life of pain and regret,” and that there was very little consensus — even among health professionals — about this issue, which she called “a social contagion” among young people. However, many medical experts and organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, disagree with that assessment saying such laws are harmful both physically and emotionally to transgender youth.
State Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington said she had noticed that many proponents of LB574 were working to protect other people’s children while many opponents of the bill were fighting to protect their own children. Her comments echoed others in the chamber who argued that proponents of the bill were stressing the need for — and trust in — parental choices, but not in the case of LB574.
She also took issue with proponents stance that they were trying to protect children, arguing those in favor of LB574 hadn’t been nearly as vocal in previous bills working to protect children in areas where nitrates might be adversely impacting the population.
State Sen. Terrell McKinney said passing the bill as it stands would work against Nebraska efforts to recruit and keep a talented workforce — or even promising students.
As the anticipated time for a cloture vote approached, State Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha made a motion to separate AM1658 from LB574, stating that there was no reason they go together. The chairman overruled his motion, but that was challenged — stopping the clock again as senators were again allowed to weigh in on the separation.
“They stand alone... They address different conduct entirely. ... And to shoehorn one into another for political purposes is wrong,” he said.
While he made his case to his fellow lawmakers, the loud chants of protesters yelling in the rotunda outside the doors to the Legislature were clearly audible in the chamber. Their shouting clearly had an impact on some of the senators on the mic, a couple of them acknowledging the crowds outside and others stating they would wait until the doors closed to continue their remarks.
State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha broke into tears on the mic as she was called on during debate, say she had been listening to the protesters outside and had just figured out what they were saying.
The motion to separate wasn’t the only process that caused delays in the final vote.
State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha attempted to recommit the bill to the Judiciary Committee because of a penalty involved against a doctor who violates the abortion bill, but the chair overruled his point of order — and lawmakers began debating whether to overrule the chair.
Sen. Day contended that the pauses for procedural debate were used by proponents to bend the rules in their favor.
The proposed ban on gender-affirming care for minors is the reason for the long-term filibuster. State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha said it was ridiculous that her conservative colleagues were pushing an agenda infringing on personal healthcare decisions.
WHAT’S IN THE BILL
Sen. Kauth said during debate on Tuesday that she had become passionate about the issue of trans healthcare among minors while researching the “Sports and Spaces” bill, LB575, which she put forward this session as well.
The original bill is a ban on gender-affirming surgeries for minors, which is rare in Nebraska, in addition to puberty blockers and hormone therapies. It didn’t have enough support, because the original sponsor, Sen. Kauth, added amendments to her own bill, which seems to be a watered-down version of the original bill and would ban only gender-affirming surgeries.
Here’s where things get murky. Tacked into the abortion bill attached to this is a section that allows Nebraska’s chief medical officer to unilaterally decide what’s allowed and what isn’t when it comes to hormone treatments and gender blockers; meaning for right now, an ear, nose, and throat doctor — appointed by Republican Gov. Jim Pillen — would make that call should this bill pass.
The six-week abortion ban had failed earlier in the session by a single vote. Republican State Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston said it went too far and was like a total ban. He had proposed a 12-week ban, but it never made it to the floor for debate.
This amendment is a 12-week ban, but opponents say it’s not the same. For instance, there are no exceptions for fetal anomalies, no clarity for exceptions for the life of the mother, and nothing removing existing criminal penalties for healthcare providers.
Assistant News Director Cassie Crowe contributed to this report.
Clarification: A previous version of this story did not detail the final status of LB574 at the end of Tuesday’s legislative session.
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