Complaint against Hunt sparks emotional debate

April 26, 2023, midnight ·

Senator Megan Hunt speaks Wednesday (Nebraska Public Media screenshot)
Senator Megan Hunt speaks Wednesday (Nebraska Public Media screenshot)

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A complaint that Sen. Megan Hunt has a potential conflict of interest in opposing restrictions on transgender health care sparked an emotional discussion among lawmakers Wednesday.

Sen. Megan Hunt, along with Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, have been leading the opposition to a proposal that would prohibit puberty blockers, hormone treatments, and surgery for transgender youth. Wednesday, Hunt revealed that Omaha attorney David Begley has filed a complaint against her with the state’s Accountablity and Disclosure Commission.

In his complaint, Begley says Hunt, who has a transgender son, failed to file a potential conflict of interest statement before voting against the LB574, the transgender health bill. Begley says there’s a chance health treatments for Hunt’s son could be paid for by Medicaid if LB574 does not become law, giving her a potential financial benefit. Hunt has said Medicaid has rejected paying for treatments for her son.

Frank Daley, executive director with the Accountability and Disclosure Commission said the law on conflict of interest says the benefit to an official has to be reasonably foreseeable and has to be reasonably distinguishable from the benefit received by the general public or a broad segment of the public.

Sen. Wendy DeBoer said by Begley’s logic, she would have multiple conflicts as well.

“Every time we have a tax bill, I'm a taxpayer. So I may be involved that every time. We have a bill that involves families, well, I have a family. So I may be involved. Every time we have a bill on basically anything in here, I'm involved because I care about my state. I care about the people in my state, and I'm involved with them, just like Senator Hunt is,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer, like Sens. Hunt and Cavanaugh, is a Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature. But some Republicans found the complaint to be spurious and defended Hunt as well. Among them was Sen. Tom Brandt. Brandt has voted for the transgender health bill that Hunt and Cavanaugh have filibustered against. But he condemned the complaint against Hunt.

“I know people are upset about the filibuster. I get that all the time from my constituents. I tell them it is the senator’s right under the rules. And who knows when I as a rural senator will need those rules. I will stand with senators Hunt and Cavanaugh for their right to speak out,” Brandt said.

Sen. John Arch, another Republican whose job as speaker has been made more difficult by the filibusters, said the complaint was part of a disturbing trend.

“License has been granted to those outside of this body based upon passion. In other words, if I feel strongly enough about some topic, I can pretty much do and say, whatever it is that I want to do or say, as long as my passion is strong enough. And that's not right. That's inappropriate. The ends do not always justify the means,” Arch said.

And Arch said criticisms involving family members of senators are out of bounds.

“They don't get elected. They're not down here. We sign up for taking the hits. They don't. And it is very difficult on families and I want people outside this body to understand that, That we aren't some ‘politician’ as though we don't have families, and we don't have lives, and we don't have -- we don't have our own personal issues, that we wrestle with on a daily basis. We are striving to protect this institution so that we can hand it off to the generations to come,” he said.

Hunt herself said the legislation that’s been proposed is hurting the state.

“I'm here to tell you that the policies that are being prioritized by this legislature -- let's just say LB574. Let's say one bill. This bill is causing the kind of brain drain and harassment and it's not fair and it's not helping our state,” Hunt said.

Hunt linked the complaint against her to controversy about transgender issues around the country, including a legislator in Montana who was banned from that state’s House of Representatives.

Ironically, the controversy came after a day that started with Sen. Danielle Conrad praising the Legislature for getting things done. Conrad pointed to how senators included an extension of SNAP, or food stamp benefits, in a package of health-related bills on Tuesday.

“As you start to see the packages being put together, as you start to see the measures moving through the body, you can see a wide array a diversity of perspective from senators across the state and political spectrum who are working together to manage the challenging circumstances that we find ourselves in this year. That, of course, is never going to grab a lot of headlines but is happening,” Conrad said.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh said that’s true, even though many senators individual priority bills have not been scheduled for debate.

“I assume that many of you have somehow gotten your bills attached to something else, so maybe that's why no individual senators priorities are getting scheduled, except for the most controversial ones are getting scheduled,” Cavanaugh said.

One such controversial bill is coming up Thursday: a proposal to ban most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. Sen. John Cavanaugh noted that it has an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect immediately, rather than three months after the Legislature adjourns in June.

Cavanaugh wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services last week, asking what preparations they are making to inform doctors about the provisions of the bill. He said Wednesday afternoon he has not yet heard back, and that’s troubling.

“It certainly is part of a rush to implement a law that needs more consideration. There's a lot of issues with this law as written, and this is just one of them. But this is a demonstration of this law is not ready to be implemented,” he said.

The Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Editor's note: DHHS issued this guidance to physicians Thursday.