News » Workplace

Nebraska Law Would Overrule Local LGBT Legal Protections

by Grant Schulte
Monday Feb 20, 2012

Gay rights advocates are preparing to fight a bill in the Nebraska Legislature that would prevent cities from enforcing local rules to protect gays and transgendered people from discrimination.

Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy says his proposal would ensure that businesses are not subjected to piecemeal regulations by cities and counties. But opponents claim it's designed to pre-empt an Omaha anti-discrimination measure.

Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray has introduced an ordinance that would let gay or transgendered people file complaints with the city, if they believe they suffered workplace discrimination because of their orientation. The measure also prohibits discrimination by restaurants, hotels or bars, but it exempts religious organizations.

Gray said he expects a "massive" turnout at the bill hearing Wednesday before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. The bill would block cities and counties from creating separate classes of people not already defined under Nebraska's existing anti-discrimination laws.

"The timing is suspicious, first of all," Gray said. "Secondly, there are some issues that are more unique to Omaha than to the rest of the state. We need the flexibility and latitude (to pass local measures), and it's getting kind of frustrating that the Legislature keeps trying to micromanage the city."

State law prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, gender, age, marital status and other characteristics, but does not include sexual orientation.

McCoy has said Nebraskans in one city deserve the same protection under the law as those working in another city. He said businesses need uniform anti-discrimination rules, especially as more employees work from home or in a town other than where their company is located.

He pointed to concealed weapons permits and smoking bans, which were once regulated by cities and counties and are now under state jurisdiction.

"This is a huge issue," Gray said. "It's a controversial issue, but it's one that demands we do something."

Nebraska lawmakers have considered bills to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation as far back as 1993, but the measures have died in the Legislature. Former Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers introduced one such measure in 2007, but the bill was indefinitely postponed.

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