Omaha senator continues filibustering in opposition of transgender care ban

Omaha senator continues filibustering in opposition of transgender care ban
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 6:50 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2023 at 7:02 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The 2023 legislative session so far has been marked by emotional social issues and painstakingly slow debates, because one senator is taking a stand on one bill by extending debate on every bill.

“Take your names off this piece of poop, do better,” Omaha Senator Machaela Cavanaugh said on the floor of the legislature shortly after LB 574, the “Let Them Grow Act” passed out of committee.

It’s a strategy that’s brought frustration, support and literal gasps from Cavanaugh’s colleagues. She tells 10/11, disruption is the point.

“I want to slow everything down, to put pressure on my colleagues to have conversations together about what it is we want to do, while also maintaining that I don’t believe we should be legislating hate, which I think LB 574 does,” Cavanaugh said.

LB 574, introduced by Omaha Senator Kathleen Kauth, would make gender altering procedures and treatments illegal for minors in Nebraska. Kauth said the goal of the bill is to protect kids from making permanent decisions too quickly. It was voted out of the Health and Human Services committee in a 4-3 vote but hasn’t yet been scheduled for debate.

But when it does, Kauth said she’s not going to let Cavanaugh’s filibusters stop her.

“I think it’s absolutely worth it to protect kids,” Kauth said. “I also think it’s worth it to say no, we’re not going to give into that kind of political extortion.”

Kauth also said she supports Cavanaugh’s right to speak up in this way. A message echoed by Speaker John Arch.

“The rules are set up to protect the minority voice,” Arch said. “It is it is purposefully hard to suppress minority voice and that’s the way it should be.”

Arch also said the divided body isn’t a surprise, given the state of society at large.

“Our society is fairly divided on some very big, big issues and they tend to be personal, they’re very emotional and people feel very passionate about them.” Arch said. “So, to the degree that society is divided and polarized on issues, I think we find some of that in the legislature as well.”

Clerk of the Legislature, Brandon Metzler, said filibusters like this aren’t unheard of in the Nebraska Legislature, though Cavanaugh’s sweeping approach differs from more targeted filibusters done by former Senator Ernie Chambers.

“It’s more of playing the defensive role and I think Senator Chambers did that to a large extent, but he would always stop and speak to the individuals on the other side, you know, he could be reasoned with,” Chambers said. “Whereas this year, I don’t know that there’s the same. You’ve heard it on the mic, there’s just this goal of playing defense.”

Cavanaugh has said multiple times, she’d stop if senators pulled their support from LB 574. So far, none of the 23 co-introducers have done so. That’s why after a few days off the mic during other filibusters, Cavnaugh picked up again.

“People are frustrated and that’s my intention,” Cavanaugh said. “So, people, you know, want to know, when am I gonna stop, why won’t I stop? And I keep reiterating what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. And I just hope that we will come together and move forward in a positive direction for Nebraska.”

A direction she said won’t harm kids, like she believes LB 574 would do.

“I’m here to stand up for kids and that’s what we should all be here for and I’m going to keep doing it,” Cavanaugh said.

Metzler said a potential side effect of the filibuster is fewer bills getting passed.

“There’s some stuff that that normally just gets breezed through, that is now because of what’s occurring on the floor is now going to take extended time on each of those,” Metzler said.

That said, Speaker Arch said he’s not concerned about not having enough time to pass the budget, which is required by law this session.

“We may have fewer bills passed this year, but they may be larger bills is what we may end up with,” Arch said. “I think it’s always important to remember that this is a biennium, it’s a two year cycle so the bills that aren’t voted on or dealt with on the floor, can be dealt with next year.”