Nebraska’s politicians began debating a bill on Tuesday to ban surgery for transgender children and young adults, after an opponent of the bill spent three weeks blocking a vote with a filibuster.
Machaela Cavanaugh, a Democrat representing an Omaha district in the state senate, launched her obstruction after Kathleen Kauth, a Republican also representing Omaha, introduced the bill.
The bill, LB574, was introduced on January 17 and ‘would forbid gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgeries for those under 19.’
Cavanaugh and her supporters said that the bill was harmful to transgender teenagers, calling it ‘genocide’ and vowing to slow legislation to a halt in protest.
‘If this Legislature collectively decides that legislating hate against children is our priority, then I am going to make it painful — painful for everyone,’ said Cavanaugh, a married mother of three.
‘Because if you want to inflict pain on our children, I am going to inflict pain upon this body.
‘I will burn the session to the ground over this bill.’
Senator Machaela Cavanaugh speaks before the Nebraska Legislature on March 13 amid her three-week filibuster, in protest against a bill banning gender-affirming treatment for transgender children
Kathleen Kauth, a Republican also representing Omaha, introduced the bill LB574 in January
Cavanaugh succeeded in slowing the business of passing laws to a crawl by introducing amendment after amendment to every bill that makes it to the state Senate floor, and taking up all eight debate hours allowed by the rules.
Clerk of the Legislature Brandon Metzler said a delay like this has happened only a couple of times in the past 10 years.
‘But what is really uncommon is the lack of bills that have advanced,’ Metzler said. ‘Usually, we’re a lot further along the line than we’re seeing now.’
Only 26 bills have advanced from the first of three rounds of debate required to pass a bill in Nebraska. There would normally be two to three times that number by mid-March, Metzler said.
‘I have nothing, nothing but time,’ she declared at one point.
‘And I am going to use all of it.
‘If people think that they are going to wear me down, if yesterday didn’t show you that you cannot wear me down – you cannot wear me down.
‘I literally left the floor yesterday, went up to my office, and laid down on the floor.
‘I laid down on the floor, a hard floor, and took a 20 minute nap before going to committee hearings.
‘You cannot stop me. I will not be stopped.’
She continued: ‘So. If LB574 gets an early floor debate, and moves forward, it will be very painful for this body.’
In the last three weeks since Cavanaugh began her bill blockade, only three bills have advanced.
‘I want us to have the debate on these bills, and I want us to take a vote on these bills,’ she said on March 15.
‘And I want a record for the history of this genocide for those who stood by it.
‘For those who had an opportunity to change the course of history – the direction in which we are moving as a state and a country.
‘I want a record. I want the bloody hands recorded.
‘This is a genocide.
‘This is an assault on a population of people because they are different from you.’
On Tuesday, debate finally began on LB574.
The debate soon grew contentious, with supporters and opponents angrily voicing their frustration and admonishing each other for a lack of collegiality.
Senator John Arch is seen in January speaking in the Nebraska senate. The senate is currently debating a transgender child healthcare bill
John Lowe, a senator for Kearney, cited an activist group’s claim that gender dysphoria in youth ‘is just temporary.’
Senator Brad von Gillern, of Omaha, compared gender-affirming treatment to shock treatments, lobotomies and forced sterilizations of years’ past.
Carol Blood, a senator for Bellevue, countered that if lawmakers really cared about medical procedures affecting children, ‘how come we’re not talking about circumcision?’
The Senate debate expected to stretch into Thursday.
Cavanaugh eventually decided to abandon the filibuster and said she wanted a vote, to put on the record of which lawmakers would ‘legislate hate against children.’
Lawmakers convened on Tuesday to begin that debate with the understanding that the bill didn’t have enough votes to break a filibuster.
But Kauth introduced an amendment to drop the restriction on hormone treatments, instead banning only gender reassignment surgery for minors.
That amendment, she said, does have enough votes to advance.
Cavanaugh has said if the bill advances on a vote expected Thursday, she will resume filibustering every bill through the end of the 90-day session in early June.
The hard feelings by lawmakers on both sides of the bill emerged almost immediately Tuesday, with Kauth calling Cavanaugh’s filibuster ‘self-serving and childish.’
Kauth said the purpose of her bill is to protect youth from undertaking gender-affirming treatments they might later regret as adults, citing research that says adolescents’ brains aren’t fully developed.
Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt called out that argument as hypocritical, noting that Kauth supports an abortion ban bill introduced this session that would also affect adolescents.
‘In a couple of weeks, she’s going to turn around and vote for a bill that would force 12-year-olds to have a baby,’ Hunt said.
‘She thinks they’re mature enough for that.’
Cavanaugh called the trans treatment bill ‘an assault on individuals that members of this body love,’ and appealed to Republican members of the body to get back to their core principles of getting government out of people’s lives.
‘So many of you have talked to me about government overreach time and time again,’ she said.
‘This bill stands in opposition to the tenets that many of you have expressed to me are the foundation of why you are here.’
Cavanaugh has spent weeks filibustering the bill, and will resume her actions if the bill is passed
The Nebraska bill, along with another that would ban trans people from using bathrooms and locker rooms or playing on sports teams that don´t align with the gender listed on their birth certificates, are among roughly 150 bills targeting transgender people that have been introduced in state legislatures this year.
Bans on gender-affirming care for minors have already been enacted this year in some Republican-led states, including South Dakota, Utah and Mississippi.
Arkansas and Alabama have bans that were temporarily blocked by federal judges.
Other states legislatures have given final approval to measures similar to the Nebraska bill, with Georgia sending to the governor Tuesday a bill that would ban most gender-affirming surgeries and hormone replacement therapies for transgender minors.