LINCOLN, Neb. — A Nebraska Senate panel on Wednesday heard testimony on a bill that would prohibit the state’s counties and cities from enforcing their own anti-discrimination laws.
Critics of the bill — LB 912 — charge that its sponsor, Sen. Beau McCoy (R-Omaha) is simply trying to prevent Omaha, Lincoln, and several of the state’s other large municipalities from passing ordinances that would protect LGBTQ people.
But state Sen. Brad Ashford (I-Omaha), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said he does not expect the panel will act on the bill during this legislative session.
McCoy argued that it was needed to prevent a patchwork quilt of discrimination ordinances across the state.
“If adding or removing a protected class is the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do border to border across Nebraska, not just in one city or one municipality,” he said.
Currently, Nebraska prohibits discrimination based on categories that include “race, color, religion, national origin, familial status or sex” in areas of employment, public accommodations and housing.
It has no protections covering sexual orientation or gender identity.
McCoy’s bill would prohibit local ordinances from enacting laws that deviate from the state’s anti-discrimination policies.
Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray said the bill would harm the city and businesses concerned about attracting workers.
“I find the timing of this law very suspicious, I also know that if we pass this law, it will cause a negative image for the state, as a state that is unwelcoming,” Gray said. “We need to have a welcoming city, a welcoming state.”
Gray has been working on a proposed ordinance to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the city of Omaha, that would apply to employers, employment agencies and labor organizations in the city, and to businesses that sign contracts with the city. Religious organizations, including religious-affiliated colleges or schools, would be exempted.
That measure is set to be heard by the Omaha City Council in a public hearing set for March 6.
John Chatelain, representing the Statewide Property Owners Association, said local ordinances would add burdensome regulations and open up landlords to more discrimination complaints.
Chatelain said he did not believe there has been a case made that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents suffer discrimination.