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LGBT workplace discrimination bill halted for now
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LGBT workplace discrimination bill halted for now

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A bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination for those people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender got its three hours in the sun Thursday.

But no vote was taken before senators adjourned at noon for their long weekend. 

If the bill's supporters can show they have 33 votes, the number needed to break a filibuster and force a vote on the issue, it will get more time, said Speaker Jim Scheer after the debate ended. That's no different than any other controversial bill with extended debate, he said.

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, who introduced the bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the workplace, said he now will work with opponents to clarify points in the legislation and make it better. 

Then he'll get a vote count based on an amended version of the bill and hope to get it on the schedule again, he said. 

This year, he felt senators had a sincere willingness to work with supporters to sort through the issues. 

"In the past the opposition had just been, 'dead no,'" he said. "In the past it was pretty fierce opposition."

During the debate, Morfeld told senators the bill (LB173) is one whose time has come, especially with the state needing to retain and attract young Nebraskans to build a 21st century atmosphere.

Morfeld said Omaha has had nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender residents for five years. 

"None of the parade of horribles that opponents have suggested have occurred," he said. 

Lincoln has no ordinances prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations or in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Six Lincoln area senators spoke in favor of the bill: Sens. Morfeld, Kate Bolz, Anna Wishart, Patty Pansing Brooks, Matt Hansen and Roy Baker. 

Bolz said she considered the bill to be employment legislation. Workforce is the No. 1 priority in growing the Nebraska economy, she said, and this would help that. 

Senators don't have to pass this bill to protect her gay son, said Pansing Brooks. 

"He's already protected. He's moved away from here," she said. 

Two Lincoln senators opposed the bill. 

The LGBT community absolutely should not be treated like second-class citizens, said Sen. Suzanne Geist. But it is the job of lawmakers to affirm and uphold constitutionally protected freedoms.

"Tolerance is a two-way street," she said. "I support only those laws that don't pick and choose who gets freedom and who doesn't." 

LB173 threatens the freedom of those who have and live by deeply held religious beliefs, including business owners, she said. 

Sen. Mike Hilgers said businesses already treat people equally.

"This is the heavy hand of government trying to solve a problem that is being solved (already)," he said. 

Two senators from Sarpy County -- Carol Blood and Sue Crawford -- talked about the importance of passing the bill and sending a positive message to businesses in their county.

Social media giant Facebook on Tuesday announced plans for a data center there. And PayPal has been a large employer in Sarpy County for years. 

Sen. Paul Shumacher of Columbus watched the city of Omaha's ordinance play out with interest, he said.

He has been persuaded by the arguments of the chambers of commerce in the state and the business community that not having this protection against discrimination is one of the drags on the state's ability to attract talented people and to look like a state fully participating in the 21st century. 

"This is a hangover from the past. And so the question's fairly simple. Shall we bring the future into being now?" he said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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