Dispute Over Two Transgender Bills Brings Nebraska State Legislature to a Halt

One Democratic senator is blocking all legislation until two bills regarding the rights of transgender residents are withdrawn.

AP/Margery Beck
A Nebraska state senator, Machaela Cavanaugh, prepares to speak before the legislature. AP/Margery Beck

In an unprecedented turn of events, the Nebraska legislature’s agenda has come to a halt amid debate over two proposals related to transgender youth. One Democratic senator is blocking all legislation until the bills are withdrawn. 

Senator Machaela Cavanaugh has used the legislative filibuster for the last three weeks to stop all legislation from moving forward. Her filibuster is in response to one bill that would ban hormone therapies and surgeries for transgender people under the age of 19 and another that would require public school students to use the bathroom that is in line with their sex at birth. 

“If this legislature collectively decides that legislating hate against children is our priority, then I am going to make it painful,” Ms. Cavanaugh said in a speech on the floor of the legislature. “I have nothing but time.” 

The legislative session began on January 4, and not a single bill has passed through the chamber in the last 12 weeks. Ms. Cavanaugh began her filibuster on March 1, freezing movement on all legislation.

The bill banning so-called gender affirming healthcare for minors was introduced by a Republican senator, Kathleen Kauth, who said in testimony before the state’s health and human services committee that these “radical, experimental, and dangerous procedures” must be banned. 

“Children deserve to know that their body isn’t something that needs to be fixed,” she said during a floor debate. “They deserve to grow up whole and they deserve to be given a chance at life as an adult before that is taken away from them by these medical practices.” Any physician who performs these procedures would be subject to civil, not criminal, penalties were the bill to become law. 

Nebraska’s governor, James Pillen, has said he would sign both measures being held up by Ms. Cavanaugh if the legislature passed them.

“There is a reason why kids in Nebraska must be 18 to get a tattoo or 21 to drink alcohol and buy tobacco products,” Mr. Pillen said in a letter to the Omaha World-Herald. “We enact laws like this because we understand that kids lack the judgment necessary to make certain kinds of decisions.”

Nebraska is the only unicameral legislature in the country, with all legislators using the honorific “senator.”

Like the United States Senate, the Nebraska legislature requires a supermajority of 33 votes to break a filibuster. Republicans hold 32 of the body’s 49 seats, meaning one Democrat would need to join them if they hope to overcome the filibuster. None have come out in support of the bill. 

Nebraska has a legislative session lasting just 90 working days. Ms. Cavanaugh said she would filibuster the bill until the legislature recesses in early June. “I will burn the session to the ground over this bill,” she said on the floor. 

The bill was passed out of the health and human services committee on a party-line vote on March 15. Also passed out of the committee was a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. 

Debate on the bill will begin on Tuesday among all state legislators after Ms. Cavanaugh and the legislature’s Republican leadership agreed that she would temporarily suspend her filibuster so debate could begin. She has said she will resume the filibuster once debate concludes to stop passage of the bill. 

Democrats say the bills are an attempt by Republicans to hop on a national “culture war” bandwagon. Many red states have adopted laws and policies similar to the ones Ms. Cavanaugh is now trying to stop. 

Utah, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Kentucky have all passed such legislation. Governor DeSantis urged his state health board to ban hormone therapies and surgeries for children, and issued a directive that barred Medicaid from funding transgender medical services at any age.

The New York Sun

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