Nebraska lawmakers defend colleague for ‘out of bounds’ conflict of interest complaint

By: - April 26, 2023 7:02 pm

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha speaks at a rally on Wednesday, April 12, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Several Nebraska lawmakers came to the defense of State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha on Wednesday after a complaint was filed alleging she has a potential conflict of interest on proposed restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors.

Frank Daley, executive director of the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, on Wednesday hand-delivered the complaint, in which David Begley, an Omaha-based attorney, argued Hunt has a potential financial conflict of interest with Legislative Bill 574.

LB 574 would prohibit puberty blockers, hormone therapies and genital or non-genital surgeries for minors. The bill, proposed by State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, has been center stage in the 2023 session, sparking near-endless filibusters and bringing the Legislature to a crawl.

During the March 22 debate on LB 574, Hunt described how the bill would impact her and her 12-year-old son, who is trans.

“The point isn’t that I could gain financially if my kid has rights,” Hunt said Wednesday. “The point is the harassment.”

Alleged financial benefit

Four conflict statements filed

State Sens. Jane Raybould of Lincoln, Myron Dorn of Adams, Anna Wishart of Lincoln and Kathleen Kauth of Omaha are the only state senators to file potential conflict of interest statements this year.

Raybould filed a statement on LB 327, related to the minimum wage (her family owns B&R Stores, a chain of grocery stores); Wishart on LB 565, related to hydrogen hubs which her employer has a stake); Dorn on LB 562, related to ethanol (he owns 1% of shares in E Energy Adams); and Kauth on LB 256, related to telehealth (she is invested in a telehealth company).

Dorn and Raybould said on the NADC form they would vote for the pertinent bills; Kauth and Wishart said they would vote “present.”

On the seven votes regarding LB 565, Wishart voted present. When LB 256 was amended into State Sen. Beau Ballard’s pet insurance framework (LB 296), Kauth voted present. However, she voted to approve the amended bill on final reading.

Kauth told the Examiner on Wednesday the bills got “muddled together.” She said she is filing an updated potential conflict of interest statement.

The Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Act requires all public officials and public employees to disclose potential conflicts in writing.

“Certain categories of public officials have a potential conflict of interest if they are faced with taking an official action or making an official decision which may result in a financial benefit or detriment to the public official or public employee, a member of his or her immediate family or business with which he or she is associated,” the act states.

Begley’s complaint contends that Hunt has a stake in LB 574, arguing that “in order to fully transition, Senator Hunt’s child would need medical services.” Hunt and doctors who provide gender-affirming services have said, however, this is untrue.

She has stated on the legislative floor she tried multiple times to obtain Medicaid coverage for her son’s care. Begley wrote that Hunt has “a slightly more than average chance” of obtaining that coverage via a lawsuit if LB 574 is defeated.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services in 1990 expressly excluded Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care. 

‘Out of bounds’

Multiple senators spoke out against the complaint during floor debate Wednesday, including State Sens. Tom Brandt of Plymouth and John Arch of La Vista, the speaker of the Legislature. Both are Republicans in the officially nonpartisan Legislature. Hunt is a Democrat.

State Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska News Service)

Brandt said Nebraskans elected “49 good people” and that while some may complain about the filibusters being led this session by Hunt and State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, “family is off limits.” 

“I do not endorse this offensive complaint,” Brandt said. “It is so far out of bounds that it does not merit discussion.”

State Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha argued the NADC complaint was a “deliberate and clear attempt” to intimidate, harass and chill senators’ responsibilities and actions.

State Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington said every senator has conflicts, many of which are not identified, because citizen legislators bring real-world experiences to their work. 

“So if Senator Hunt is going to get a conflict or a NADC file against her, then I should, too,” DeBoer said.

‘We sign up for taking the hits’

State Sen. John Arch of La Vista, speaker of the Legislature, speaks on the legislative floor on Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Lincoln. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Speaker Arch said some members of the public have seemingly used a “license,” based upon their passion, to do or say whatever they want “as long as my passion is strong enough.”

The speaker said lawmakers have strived to protect the institution from undue outside influence that has swerved toward name-calling, vitriol and hate and dragged families into the mix.

“We sign up for taking the hits. They don’t,” Arch said of lawmakers’ family members.

Arch said the institution must be protected so it can be handed off to “generations to come.”

“Do not weaponize. Measure your words carefully,” Arch said to the public. “Be civil, express your positions on policy — we want to know that — but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”


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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach Wendling is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, double-majoring in journalism and political science. He has interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C., and has reported for the Nebraska News Service and The Daily Nebraskan.