Senators discuss workplace protections for LGBT

Lawmakers discussed a bill April 6 that would protect employees who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) from discrimination from employers.

Sen. Adam Morfeld
Sen. Adam Morfeld

Introduced by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, LB173 would prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against employees or applicants based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill would apply to employers having 15 or more employees, the state of Nebraska, governmental agencies and political subdivisions.

Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status and national origin currently is prohibited.

Morfeld said some Nebraskans are being fired for being gay and many are scared to be themselves for fear of losing their jobs. The state is losing talented young workers, he said, to the nearly half of all states that already have passed similar protections.

“Voting against LB173 is not only allowing people to be fired solely for being gay, [it’s also saying that] we want the right to tell you that’s the reason you’re being fired,” he said. “If we’re going to build a 21st century economy in our state, than we need to pass these commonly accepted protections.”

Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln spoke in support of the bill. She said a recent study commissioned by the governor predicted that 66 percent of all Nebraska jobs in the future will require a college degree or higher. Refusing to pass protections like these unnecessarily hinders the state’s already small workforce, Bolz said.

“The chambers of commerce and business interests in Nebraska all define workforce as the number one priority in terms of growing Nebraska,” she said. “LB173 would bring all kinds of workers with all kinds of gifts to the state.”

Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood said the recent announcement of a Facebook data center locating in Papillion is a tremendous opportunity for economic growth. Recruiting other large, international companies to build in Nebraska will be difficult, she said, if the state’s employment laws continue to allow for discrimination against LGBT employees.

Kearney Sen. John Lowe opposed the bill, saying that Nebraska’s economy is consistently ranked as one of the strongest in the country. He said there is no correlation between stronger economic growth and discrimination protections for the LGBT community.

Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln also opposed LB173. She said the bill threatens the freedom of those who live by their deeply held religious beliefs. The government should not be dictating to business owners who they must hire, Geist said.

“Business [owners] have the right to be free to run their business according to their beliefs and thus contribute to the diversity that is essential in the marketplace,” she said.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers supported the measure, saying it is hypocritical to protect the rights of some groups and not others. The right of LGBT members to not be discriminated against is a matter of human rights, not civil rights, he said.

“If you say our LGBT brothers and sisters are not entitled to this protection and this kind of legislation because it gives unfair advantages to some and not others, let’s get rid of all protections,” Chambers said. “Let there be freedom and justice for everybody or let there be freedom and justice for nobody.”

The Legislature adjourned for the day before taking action on the bill.

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