Nebraska lawmakers took up a second round of debate Thursday on a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors that has proved to be so contentious, it’s led opponents to filibuster every bill before the Nebraska Legislature for weeks.
That effort has largely hamstrung the body’s work. While lawmakers have managed to advance a number of bills, it had not passed a single bill by Wednesday, which marked the 60th day of this year’s 90-day session.
Lawmakers entered the trans health bill debate already raw from a contentious showdown a day earlier over a bill that would greatly restrict abortion access in the state. That bill, which advanced on the slimmest of margins over strident objections from opponents, would ban abortion once cardiac activity can be detected in an embryo, which is generally around the sixth week of pregnancy and before most women even know they are pregnant.
DEMOCRATS REEL AS NEBRASKA BILL BANNING TRANS PROCEDURES FOR MINORS ADVANCES
The transgender health proposal has proved to be even more polemic. It advanced from the first eight-hour round of debate last month after supporters and opponents angrily accused each other of lacking collegiality.
Even before Thursday’s debate began, opponents signaled that deliberations would become heated. Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt lashed out at supporters of the trans health ban Wednesday night. For Hunt, the debate is deeply personal; she shared on the floor of the Legislature during the bill’s first round of debate that her teenage son is transgender. She has since refused to speak to lawmakers who voted to advance the proposal.
“Unless the bill is killed, every bill will be filibustered, and we will talk about LB574 every day on every bill,” Hunt said.
Opponents have noted that Nebraska’s bill is nearly identical to an Arkansas law that has been temporarily blocked by federal courts as a judge considers whether to strike that state’s ban down as unconstitutional.
Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh laid bare the argument that such a ban is unconstitutional, noting that it targets a protected class of people. The bill does not keep teenage girls who identify as girls from getting breast reduction surgery, she said. Nor does it keep teen boys who identify as boys from having surgery to remove excess breast tissue.
“You don’t want to ban top surgery for minors. You want to ban top surgery for transgender minors,” Cavanaugh said. “That is targeting a group of people because of how they identify. And that is discrimination.”
Conservative Nebraska state Sen. Kathleen Kauth, whose bill banning hormone therapies and sex change procedures for minors is currently the subject of an intense debate in the Cornhusker States unicameral Legislature. (AP Photo/Margery Beck, File)
Rhetoric around the bill again grew heated at times Thursday, with some conservative lawmakers suggesting that gender-affirming treatments have led to an increase in suicide and suicidal thoughts in transgender teens.
Sen. John Lowe of Kearney repeated a common refrain among conservative activists and politicians, saying children were “being groomed” in schools to develop gender dysphoria. Sen. Brian Hardin of Gering said those urging lawmakers to follow accepted science on transgender health care “are the same people who chanted ‘follow the science’ on COVID-19 until it was no longer fashionable to do so about a year ago.”
Hunt shot back at those assertions.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “By supporting this bill, you’re telling these kids that you reject them. And that’s what’s leading to suicidal ideation in kids.
“You are throwing gasoline on the fire.”
The bill by Republican Sen. Kathleen Kauth, a freshman lawmaker in the officially-nonpartisan state Legislature, would outlaw gender-affirming therapies such as hormone treatments, puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery for those 18 and younger. Kauth has maintained that the bill is intended to protect children from undertaking gender-affirming treatments they might later regret as adults.
She read from an array of testimony and reports from doctors and activists who have called into question the safety of gender-affirming treatments. The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association all support gender-affirming care for youths. Kauth insinuated Thursday that greed might be driving that support, saying “medicine is also a business.”
“There is not enough research to justify this kind of risk,” Kauth said. “My fear is that 10 years down the road, people will look back and say, ‘Where were the adults to say take it slow?’”
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The bill was 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.” When the bill advanced anyway last month, several other lawmakers joined in the filibuster.
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.
At least 13 states have now enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, South Dakota and West Virginia. Bills await action from governors in Kansas, Montana and North Dakota. In addition to Arkansas’s ban, a federal judge has blocked enforcement of a similar law in Alabama, and nearly two dozen states are considering bills this year to restrict or ban care.
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The bill must get 33 votes Thursday and again in a later third round of debate to overcome filibusters and pass. Republican Gov. Jim Pillen has said he will sign the bill if it passes.