LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers aren't likely to stop an Omaha proposal to protect gay, bisexual and transgender people from job discrimination.
State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said at a committee hearing Wednesday he does not expect the panel will act on a bill aimed at blocking the ordinance.
Legislative Bill 912 would prohibit cities and other local governments from protecting new classes of people who are not protected under state law. The bill would be retroactive, meaning it would void any city ordinance passed before the bill took effect.
Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, the bill's sponsor, argued that it was needed to prevent a patchwork quilt of discrimination ordinances across the state.
"Discrimination does not stop at a city or county border," he said. "If adding or removing a protected class is the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do border to border across Nebraska, not just in one city or one municipality."
But Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray said the bill would harm the city and businesses concerned about attracting workers.
"We need to have our best face on," he said. "We need to have a welcoming city, a welcoming state."
Gray said local control means the city should be able to act even if the state does not. He has been working on a proposed ordinance to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The proposal will be on the council's agenda for the first time Tuesday, with a public hearing set for March 6.
The proposal would apply to employers, employment agencies and labor organizations in the city and to businesses that sign contracts with the city.
Religious organizations, including religious-affiliated colleges or schools, would be exempted.
Shane Strong of Omaha said LB 912 would turn civil liberties "on its head."
The federal government sets minimum standards for protection from discrimination but allows states to provide additional protection. Nebraska law also sets minimums and allows local governments to do more.
LB 912 would set a ceiling on the protections local governments could provide.
John Chatelain, representing the Statewide Property Owners Association, said local ordinances would add burdensome regulations and open up landlords to more discrimination complaints.
He said he did not believe there has been a case made that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents suffer discrimination.
Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha questioned how the bill would apply to Omaha's current ordinances, which protect people from housing discrimination based on age and marital status. State law does not provide housing protection for those groups.
McCoy said he didn't know whether LB 912 would conflict with those ordinances but would be willing to address the issue if need be.
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