Cavanaugh ends filibuster; one transgender bill to be debated

March 16, 2023, midnight ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh on Thursday ended a three-week long filibuster protesting legislation to restrict medical treatment for transgender youth. And Speaker John Arch scheduled debate on the bill for next week.

Cavanaugh had slowed the Legislature to a molasses-like pace for the last three weeks protesting Sen. Kathleen Kauth’s proposal, LB574, to ban medical or surgical treatment to help Nebraskans under 19 transition to a different genders. She did so by speaking up to the limit of eight hours on unrelated bills that dealt with subjects like alcohol and gambling.

Thursday morning, Speaker of the Legislature John Arch announced the filibuster was ending.

“Sen. Cavanaugh and I have agreed, given the number of other very important issues to address in our time remaining this session, that LB574, Senator Kauth’s priority bills should be scheduled for debate at the earliest date so we can have that debate and then proceed to other important legislation,” Arch said.

Cavanaugh had previously said her goal was to put pressure on Arch not to schedule the transgender bill for debate. She said Thursday that she now believes it’s better to have the debate and let the bill fail, which she said she’s optimistic it will. She did admit one regret.

“While I was relishing the opportunity of filibustering my brother’s bill later today, I want to be true to the agreement that I made with Senator Arch, and really the agreement that I have made with this body, and so I am going to take a break,” Cavanaugh said.

Arch said the legislature will begin debate on Kauth’s bill on transgender treatments Tuesday, with a vote expected Thursday.

Another of Kauth’s proposals, to restrict student athletes to sports teams and locker rooms according to their sex at birth, remains in the Education Committee. Arch said he and Cavanaugh agreed the transgender treatment bill, Kauth’s priority, was the one that needed to be debated, and Kauth said she was told her sports bill will remain in committee.

Arch said there are a lot of big issues still to be debated, including the budget, taxes, school funding and voter IDs. And he said there will be other highly controversial issues as well

LB574 is just one of several bills dealing with social issues that will be debated this year, and will evoke passionate statements from senators. We'll also be receiving passionate input to the debate from those outside the legislative body. Colleagues, these issues will challenge us to conduct ourselves with decorum during the remaining days. The public expects nothing less and we should expect nothing less of each other. Let's measure our words carefully and demonstrate statesmanship in the days ahead,” he said.

One of those controversial issues headed for debate is abortion. LB626 proposes further restrictions on when someone can receive an abortion. Meanwhile Thursday afternoon, there was a public hearing on proposals to put abortion rights in the state constitution.

Sen. Megan Hunt is sponsoring the proposed constitutional amendments, which would be subject to a vote of the people, if the Legislature put them on the ballot. Hunt predicted popular opinion would favor them.

“In the lead up to floor debate over LB626, Sen. Albrecht’s abortion ban, we've heard claims that Nebraskans support that bill en masse. If that's true, let's let them tell us. If Nebraskans are going to be fundamentally limited in their civil rights, let's give them the choice in this matter and put it on the ballot,” Hunt said.

Lisa Lewis of the Jewish Federation of Omaha testified in support of the proposals.

“In Judaism, our religious belief is that restrictions on reproductive rights is an imposition on one faith on another, on our faith in particular. Or a codification of one faith over another. And this is forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and I'm sure the constitution of the state of Nebraska,” Lewis said.

Marion Miner opposed the proposals on behalf of the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

“A new, unique, personal and distinct human being comes into existence at fertilization. That human being has a right to life. And that right to life is not conditional. It is not more or less due to that child, depending on the child's age, size, strength, weakness, disability, or the material and financial situation of the child's family,” Miner said.

Also opposing the proposal was Sandy Danek of Nebraska Right to Life.

“These legislative resolutions proposes to add the words reproductive freedom to the list of inherent and inalienable rights listed in the Nebraska constitution. This is in direct conflict with one of the existing inherent and inalienable rights, the right to life,” Danek said.

Hunt conceded there is no way the Health and Human Services Committee will advance her proposals this year. But she predicted the measure would eventually come before voters via a popular initiative, or via a referendum to repeal whatever further restrictions the Legislature might enact.

Lawmakers are now taking a four day weekend, and will take up the transgender treatment bill when they reconvene Tuesday.