Senators advance ban on transgender treatments for youth
By Fred Knapp , Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
March 23, 2023, midnight ·
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The Nebraska Legislature gave first-round approval Thursday to a bill banning surgery and medical treatment that would help young people transition to a different gender. But the emotional — sometimes tearful — discussion suggested the future of the bill, and of other big issues to be considered this year, remains uncertain.
Thursday’s discussion was not so much a debate as an attempt by outnumbered opponents of the bill to sway one senator – any senator – to vote against allowing the bill to come to a vote.
To make their case, opponents filed a series of motions to postpone further debate. Each such motion gave that senator time to speak.
Supporters of the bill have said they want to protect transgender youth from undergoing treatments they will later regret. But Sen. George Dungan questioned if that was really the motivation. He compared supporters’ arguments to those used against the civil rights movement.
“This isn't about medication. This isn't about your concern about side effects. I have this little sticker that sits here on my desk and it says ‘It's not about bathrooms and it was never about water fountains.’ It was never about lunch counters. It was never about buses. It was never about people being mad about pants versus dresses. What it's about is fear,” Dungan said.
Sen. Lynne Walz talked about her son coming home from serving in Afghanistan and falling into a deep depression. She said she tried to fix it, until she heard a voice from God telling her that wasn’t her job. Tearfully, Walz said senators like herself shouldn’t intervene in the treatment of young people.
“This is way beyond my capacity. It's way beyond my control and it's not a decision that I should make. It is not my job. My job is to listen. My job is to care and love and to serve. Just like I had to do with my son. I don't think this is our job, colleagues,” Walz said.
Sen. John Fredrickson said even the debate on outlawing treatments had triggered despair among young trans people. Fredrickson read from an email he said he got from someone at a mental health clinic after Wednesday’s debate.
“Since this morning’s session adjourned, the crisis calls from transgender and gender diverse adolescents have begun. We have already had youth contacting their therapists in crisis and are disclosing in session that they're acutely suicidal. We have had sessions with frantic parents who feel unable to keep their children safe from harming themselves,” Fredrickson read.
Sen. Megan Hunt, who talked Wednesday about having a transgender son, said if the bill advanced, she and others would disrupt the entire remaining legislative session. Hunt dismissed talk of compromise on the bill that would ban surgery but still allow young people to get puberty blockers and hormone treatments.
“A compromise is not a victory here. We have to kill it or the session’s over today,” Hunt said.
Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh said opponents would prevent a compromise from coming to a vote.
“The senators that keep saying that they're voting for it because of the amendment? The amendment is not happening. The amendment is not happening. It will not happen,” Cavanaugh said.
It takes 33 affirmative votes in the 49-member Legislature to invoke cloture, the procedural move needed to stop debate and vote on the bill. Sen. Danielle Conrad appealed to her colleagues to vote “no” or to abstain, so the Legislature could get to other high profile issues.
“Any one of you can have a ‘Profile in Courage’ moment today. You can be ‘present not voting,’ or vote ‘no,’ because this shouldn't be the hill to die on. It puts at risk property tax relief. It puts at risk ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) decisions. It puts at risk workforce development. It puts at risk our budget. It puts at risk everything before this body,” Conrad said.
Sen. Jen Day pleaded with her colleagues to sympathize with parents of trans kids who oppose the bill.
“This is your opportunity to stop the suffering of these children and these families. Just one of you. We need just one of you to be present not voting. That's it. It ends it today,” Day said.
But.it didn’t end Thursday. When time came to vote, 33 senators voted for cloture, exactly the number needed, with none to spare. Thirty senators then voted to give the bill first-round approval. It would take 25 to pass if there were no filibuster.
In an interview following the vote, Sen. Kathleen Kauth, chief sponsor of the bill, praised the outcome, but not the parliamentary maneuvering that silenced her supporters.
“Unfortunately we were not able to say anything today, so we were really blocked from speaking. There was really no debate. There was just a lot of talking,” Kauth said.
Sen. Jana Hughes, who voted for cloture but abstained from voting for the bill itself, said she still wants the compromise amendment.
“For me there's a hard line at surgery. I think there's more shades of gray with the medicine, hormone treatments and puberty blockers. And I'm just trying to do what I can and get the right information, but I want to protect kids,” Hughes said.
Sen. Tom Brandt, who also voted for cloture but not for the bill, said he too wanted the amendment. Sen. Christy Armendariz, who voted for cloture but against the bill, could not be reached for comment.
Kauth expressed concern for how the rest of the session will go.
“The obfuscation of the entire session has been extreme. We're missing out on a lot of good Legislature this year,” she said.
Her bill still needs to pass two more rounds of voting in a deeply divided Legislature.
This is how senators voted on cloture for LB574:
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