The Nebraska Legislature voted Thursday to advance a contentious bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors, despite threats from two lawmakers that they would filibuster the rest of the session.
Introduced by Republican Sen. Kathleen Kauth, a freshman lawmaker, the bill would outlaw gender-affirming therapies such as hormone treatments, puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery for those 18 and younger. The purpose of the bill, she has said, is to protect youth from undertaking gender-affirming treatments they might later regret as adults, citing research that says adolescents’ brains aren’t fully developed.
However Omaha Sen. Jen Day took the floor Thursday morning to plead to her colleagues to consider the real impact that the ban could have on the affected youth. In a heartfelt speech, she said that at least one licensed phycologist in Nebraska said her office was flooded with calls this week about this bill. She said if it passes, some transgender and gender diverse youth could be pushed to suicide.
The vote came on the third day of debate, in which lawmakers angrily accused one another of hypocrisy and a lack of collegiality. With the bill’s advancement, Omaha Sens. Megan Hunt and Machaela Cavanaugh have promised to filibuster every bill that comes before lawmakers for the rest of the 90-day session.
Ultimately, the vote was 30- 17 in favor of advancing the bill to the second round, with two senators abstaining. All three Panhandle Senators- Steve Erdman, Tom Brewer, and Brian Hardin- voted in favor of advancing the bill to Enrollment and Review Initial.
Hunt took to the floor of the Legislature on Wednesday to confess that the debate is deeply personal for her, because her teenage son is transgender. She called the bill an affront to her as a parent and called out by name lawmakers she would hold accountable if they vote to advance it.
“If this bill passes, all your bills are on the chopping block, and the bridge is burned,” she said. “I’m not doing anything for you. Because this is fake. this has nothing to do with real life. this is all of you playing government.”
The proposal had caused tumult in the legislative session long before debate began on it earlier this week. It was cited as the genesis of a nearly three-week, uninterrupted filibuster carried by Cavanaugh, who followed through on her vow in late February to filibuster every bill before the Legislature — even those she supported — declaring she would “burn the session to the ground over this bill.”
She stuck with it until an agreement was reached late last week to push the bill to the front of the debate queue. Instead of trying to eat time to keep the bill from getting to the floor, Cavanaugh decided she wanted a vote to put on the record which lawmakers would “legislate hate against children.”
The Nebraska bill, along with another that would ban trans people from using bathrooms and locker rooms or playing on sports teams that don’t align with the sex listed on their birth certificates, are among roughly 150 bills targeting transgender people that have been introduced in state legislatures this year.
The bill will have to survive two more rounds of debate to pass in the unique one-house, officially nonpartisan Legislature. Republican Gov. Jim Pillen has said he will sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.