Second day of debate on trans health care bill brings personal stories to forefront

A vote is expected on LB 574 Thursday morning, requiring 33 votes to advance

By: - March 22, 2023 5:08 pm
Supporters of trans Nebraskans hold individual signs spelling out "TRANS RESPECT" following debate on a bill to restrict gender-affirming care

Supporters of transgender Nebraskans hold signs in the Rotunda of the Nebraska State Capitol to meet senators following the second day of debate on LB 574 on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — The second day of debate over a bill that would restrict what gender-affirming care minors could receive in the state took a more personal turn for one parent in the Nebraska Legislature.

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha speaks on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Omaha State Sen. Megan Hunt described Wednesday how Legislative Bill 574 would impact her and her 12-year-old son, Ash Homan. The bill, proposed by State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, would prohibit puberty blockers, hormone therapies and genital or non-genital surgeries before the age of 19. Referrals would also be prohibited.

Hunt said she intended to go the whole debate without mentioning Ash, who a number of Hunt’s colleagues have met and helped Hunt care for. Ash testified against LB 574 at its public hearing.

However, Hunt said that while many senators brought up hypotheticals, she could use her platform to describe what she and other parents want: for their children to be happy and healthy no matter their gender expression.

“This is my life and this is my reality, and all of you know me,” Hunt said. “I don’t understand it. I don’t have to understand. When my son came out to me, the challenges that I felt emotionally around that were private … but I was so happy to learn that I had a son.”

Additional restrictions for minors

Multiple senators also spoke on the floor comparing LB 574 to other experiences.

State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair of Omaha speaks on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings described being convinced he could fly at 9 years old, so he asked his dad to get an extension ladder to help him get on top of the family farmhouse.

“And he looked at me and he said, ‘Son, when you’re a little bit older and out of the house and you’re a big enough boy that you can handle the extension ladder yourself, you can do as you please,’” Halloran said. “‘But I will not do that for you because while the takeoff may be easy, the landing will be hard.’”

State Sen. Brad von Gillern of Elkhorn said one of his daughters wanted to get a tattoo when she was 16, so he talked through the process and how her preferences may change over time.

And State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair asked State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha why there are laws forbidding sex between a 12-year-old and an adult. 

The question, Hansen said, was to draw a comparison between the bill and those laws, which many senators have mentioned in debate, comparing gun ownership, sex, drugs and alcohol or other issues to LB 574.

Cavanaugh said there is no comparison between a crime and a medical decision. She described other rhetoric on Wednesday as nonsense, fake, disingenuous and disrespectful. 

Importance of mental health

State Sen. John Fredrickson of Omaha, who is a clinical social worker, took much of his time Wednesday debunking myths around gender-affirming care.

Fredrickson said receiving care is a months-long if not years-long process, with parental and patient consent at each stage.

State Sen. John Fredrickson of Omaha speaks on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

“You guys think everyone is going to the vending machine in the 7-Eleven that they’re giving out puberty blockers and hormone therapies like candy,” Hunt said.

Some senators said that because there are discrepancies between the data and studies being used, it suggests another reason to hold off on care.

Hansen said it’s typical to hold off on care “until the science is clear.”

“I always thought that when it came to performing medical procedures or prescribing medications, the prudent thing was to not do it,” Hansen, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said. “But for some reason here, we’re saying, ‘Absolutely, do it,’ in the name of mental health care.”

Halloran said his “heart goes out” to those with gender dysphoria but said LB 574 simply delays gender-affirming care.

“All we’re saying is let’s press the pause button a little while,” Halloran said. “I know that may sound harsh to some people, but the pause button will not hurt. And it will give children time to grow up, and in some cases, it may give time for their parents to grow up as well and seriously consider the ramifications and side effects.”

Additional senators noted there are serious mental health concerns, so more support should be given to children with gender dysphoria.

But Fredrickson said those generalizations are “heartbreaking,” especially for the trans community.

“If we let this community thrive, I think you’ll be amazed at how incredible and how beautiful they are,” Fredrickson said.

‘Move Nebraska forward’

State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, a civil rights attorney, said parents, children and doctors are not confused regarding gender-affirming care. Instead, she said senators are joining a national push against trans people that has evaded Nebraska for years.

“You’ll throw away the Constitution, you’ll throw away your conscience, you’ll throw away the truth, you’ll throw away this institution to pursue a hateful, divisive national playbook,” Conrad told her colleagues. “And congratulations, you’re doing it.”

Previous legislators had “better judgment” not to bring legislation similar to LB 574, Conrad said.

“You’ve whispered you hate this bill and what’s happening. Say it on the mic, I dare you,” Conrad said. “Don’t follow hate. Be a leader, not a follower. Find an opportunity to move Nebraska forward instead of dragging it into a national muck of hate and harm and divisiveness.”

Bill requires 33 votes to advance

Discussions around LB 574 will continue for approximately two hours Thursday morning. Then Kauth can file for “cloture” to end the debate, which requires 33 votes.

State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha speaks on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

A procedural motion split 31-13 on Tuesday, which suggests the votes may be there for cloture, even if senators do not vote to advance the bill itself. 

State Sens. Tom Brewer of Gordon and Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, both Republicans who are cosponsoring the bill, were excused from Tuesday’s vote.

Brewer returned to the Legislature Wednesday. Aguilar is recovering from surgery, but a staffer confirmed Wednesday that Aguilar plans to be there for the vote.

Kauth noted last week it’s “entirely possible” the votes may not be there.

State Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams told the Examiner on Wednesday that he has concerns with the underlying bill but “might support” a cloture vote. 

Dorn pointed to an amendment that some senators have seen as a compromise, which would allow puberty blockers and hormone therapies but outlaw surgeries until 19. Cavanaugh has motions to prevent amendments at all stages, but Dorn said he could give full support to the bill if it were amended.

Cavanaugh said a vote for cloture is the same as a vote for the bill. Hunt said all bills would be on the “chopping block” and relationships would be burned if the bill advances.

“Just because this bill doesn’t pass or passes tomorrow, I do not see it as the end of the conversation,” Dorn said on the floor. “We’re just going to have more discussion, more interest on this subject.”

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach Wendling recently graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a double major in journalism and political science. He has interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. He reported for the Nebraska News Service and The Daily Nebraskan before joining the Nebraska Examiner staff as an intern.