Committee advances ban on job discrimination based on sexual orientation

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March 31, 2014 - 5:39pm

Nebraska employers would be prohibited from discriminating based on sexual orientation, so-called "upskirting" photos would be criminalized, and many of Gov. Dave Heineman’s vetoes would be overturned, under proposals moving in the Legislature. And Heineman signed legislation authorizing online voter registration.

The proposed ban on employment discrimination would prohibit using sexual orientation or gender identity as a basis to discriminate against someone. As amended, the proposal by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad contains an exception for religious organizations, religious schools, and religious colleges.

This was at least the second time this year the Judiciary Committee voted on advancing the bill. The last time, it failed. This time, it advanced by one vote. Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis was asked why he changed his mind and now supports the bill. "I’ve thought about this a lot for probably the last month and a half. And I really think that sexual orientation and gender orientation are more of a biological thing than a choice that people make," Davis said. "I’ve gone around and around on this for a long time, but once you finally come to that conclusion you finally say "I really can’t discriminate against somebody because they really don’t have a choice in the matter of what they do and who they are."

Conrad, who has named the bill her priority for this year, said the Judiciary Committee’s vote makes this a "great day for equal rights in Nebraska." But with only eight working days remaining in this year’s legislative session, it remains to be seen if there’s enough time for the bill to pass through three rounds of voting to be sent to the governor.

Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy said the measure would be "very detrimental" to Nebraska businesses. McCoy filed a kill motion and 10 amendments to the bill, promising lengthy debate if it is put on the agenda.

In other action Monday, senators considered a proposal by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill to outlaw so-called "upskirting" -- taking pictures of someone’s intimate areas if they are not generally visible to the public. McGill said the bill is important. "We had a case in Cass County where a man was caught photographing up a woman’s shirt. And they weren’t be able to get him on anything. The guy’s out there with no retribution – no course of action, no sentence, no punishment for having done that. That’s a serious issue," she said. "I’ve been hearing from college campuses about how important this is to them and about how our technology has come to such a place that these things can easily be taken and distributed."

The language of the proposal includes photographs taken of someone without that person’s knowledge, whether they were naked or clothed in undergarments, and whether they were in a public or a private place. Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus questioned whether that language of the proposal might not prohibit legal activity, like photographing someone in a bathing suit. "I really think it’s important that if this is going to be constitutional, if we’re going to make it the law of this state, that we limit it to the evil at hand, and that is somebody sneaking up on someone and photographing at close range and distance under the skirt or under the pants," Schumacher said. "This seems to be just terribly broad legislation, and because it’s terribly broad, maybe unenforceable."

Senators voted 30-0 for McGill’s proposal, which is now attached to a bill awaiting a final vote.

Meanwhile, the Appropriations Committee voted to recommend an override of most of the big ticket items vetoed out of the budget by Gov. Dave Heineman. Among the overrides recommended were $10 million for job training, $7 million for juvenile services, another $7 million for Game and Parks deferred maintenance, 2.5 million for fountains in the courtyards of the Capitol, and $12 million to begin overhauling the heating, ventilation and air conditioning of the Capitol. Now, it will be up to the full Legislature to decide on the committee’s recommendations.

Also Monday, Heineman signed legislation authorizing online voter registration. Nebraska joins 17 other states that have implemented such registration. The governor’s office said the system will be in place by 2017.

 

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