Legislature confirms Corsi as head of Health and Human Services

March 25, 2024, 5 p.m. ·

Senator Machaela Cavanaugh during debate Monday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh during debate Monday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Legislature confirmed Gov. Jim Pillen’s appointment of Steve Corsi to head the Department of Health and Human Services Monday, despite opposition from senators who objected to his social media posts and job history.

Steve Corsi has been serving as acting director of Health and Human Services since September, but Monday marked his official legislative confirmation. Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh led the opposition to his confirmation. Cavanaugh quoted social media posts Corsi had liked:

“'Race is preposterous nonsense.’ ‘Thousands of free blacks owned black slaves in the antebellum south and years after the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, whites as well as blacks were still being bought and sold as slaves in North Africa and the Middle East.’ ‘I'll keep saying abortion is in health care, because pregnancy isn't a disease.’ ‘There is a love that's not acceptable to God, same sex love, does not bring glory to God and does not come from God,’" Cavanaugh read.

Cavanaugh also criticized Corsi for, among other things, not revealing that just before starting at Nebraska, he had been employed by Epiphany Associates. That’s a Utah-based budget-cutting and government efficiency consultant that received a $10 million no-bid contract from the Pillen administration last year.

Sen. Ben Hansen, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee which voted to recommend Corsi’s confirmation, recommended that the full Legislature follow suit.

“I'm not discarding any concerns that some people might have about his past -- that's for them to ask questions about and try to decide on what they want to do with that -- but I do have full faith and confidence in Dr. Corsi,” Hansen said.

Corsi has a doctorate in psychology from Alliant International University.

Sen. Jen Day joined Cavanaugh and others in opposing Corsi’s confirmation.

“I think for someone to have such poor judgment that they would post the things that he's posted on social media, and to say the things that he said, it's not only an indictment of his judgment but of his character as well,” Day said.

But Sen. Merv Riepe supported Corsi, saying Pillen deserves to have the nominee he wants to head the department.

“While concern with Dr. Corsi will be influenced by his personal values, as we all are, I did in fact vote -- and I think maybe I was the deciding vote -- to move Dr. Corsi, because I believe that the governor deserves to have his team, for which he will be accountable, hopefully in a positive outcome for the good state of Nebraska,” Riepe said.

After less than two hours of debate, senators voted 28-8 to confirm Corsi’s appointment.

Monday afternoon, senators debated a bill to pay claims against the state. The bill itself was noncontroversial. But Sen. Justin Wayne introduced an amendment, based on a bill by Sen. Steve Halloran, to make the state, local governments, and schools responsible if one of their employees committed sexual abuse against a child.

Wayne compared the immunity that governments currently have against paying damages for such acts to the liability they have if people are injured by a high-speed police chase, such as are covered in the claims bill.

“If a state patrol individual is in pursuit and injures a third party, the state is strictly liable. Yet if the same state patrol person sexually assaults a kid, whether they're in custody or out of custody, that is considered an intentional act, and based off of the recent Supreme Court dicta, the state is immune from being sued,” Wayne said.

Sen. Rick Holdcroft opposed the amendment.

“I would point out that, although the state could not be sued currently, the state troopers could certainly be held responsible. And the perpetrator in all of these cases can be held responsible, both criminally and civilly. So it's not that the victim doesn't have recourse, it just doesn't have recourse to sue the government – it’s sovereign immunity,” Holdcroft said.

Sen. Danielle Conrad said that opposition reflected a double standard.

“I have heard my friend Sen. Holdcroft and others say, ‘We should run government like a business.’ But then in the same breath, in this instance, we'll say ‘No, actually, government needs special considerations and special protections and should be held to a different standard than we (use to) treat private businesses,’ for example. So which is it?” Conrad asked.

After Sen. Rob Clements objected that a change in law should not be amended into what was essentially an appropriations bill, Wayne withdrew his amendment. But he promised to reintroduce it to another bill as the Legislature continues its work.