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The debate on protections for Nebraska workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity got started Monday morning in the Legislature, with a clear indication some senators would work to defeat it via filibuster. 

"This bill would directly interfere with the rights of conscience of businesses and Nebraska employers in direct violation of this constitutional protection," said Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood. "Nebraska voters would have to amend this Nebraska constitutional provision in order for this bill to be constitutionally valid."

The bill (LB627), introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, would make discrimination unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees, employers with state contracts regardless of the number of employees, the State of Nebraska, government agencies and political subdivisions. Current law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status or national origin. 

Pansing Brooks opened with an appeal to friends, coworkers, constituents and family not to lose heart over the things that could be said in the debate. Many people, including conservative members of the Omaha and Lincoln chambers of commerce, value and respect those in the LGBTQ community and want them in Nebraska to work. 

"Clearly society is changing. Clearly Nebraska will ultimately see the light," she said. 

For those who didn't believe the state has a problem with discrimination in the workplace, Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld offered examples. An attorney who graduated from a prestigious law school, who was offered a position with a Nebraska law firm, had that offer rescinded when she asked about same-sex partner benefits. And a man in Morfeld's district was fired from a fast-food restaurant when it became known he had a boyfriend. 

"That happens in this state. It happens every single month," Morfeld said.

And the state's young people know it. 

Sen. Megan Hunt told senators that for the first time in the many years of debating a bill like this, there is someone among them who could be directly affected by the outcome. Hunt identifies as bisexual. 

She is a business owner and employs 12 young women and has a well-invested interest in attracting and keeping young people in the state, she said. 

"I think there's a lot to learn about why Nebraska struggles to keep young people here," she said. 

It's silly and ridiculous and laughable and shameful to talk about equality before the law and brain drain and talent attraction and retention when this state doesn't treat people equally before the law, Hunt said. 

But Clements said the behavior the bill seeks to protect falls outside the boundaries of morality stated in the Constitution as essential to good government. 

Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist said businesses in Nebraska are free to decide the values they would like to adopt and the missions they would seek to advance. 

LB627 would undermine the diversity and tolerance of the state and curtail its robust and flourishing marketplace, Geist said. 

Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil highlighted the risks and unintended consequences business owners in the state would face with the bill. 

"LB627 would threaten small-business owners with liability for alleged discrimination based on perceived gender," Murman said. 

Six of the top 10 states in Forbes' best states for business do not have nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity, he said. Those six are Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Georgia and Florida. 

First-round debate on the bill is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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