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Nebraska expected to pass combo bill on abortion, gender-affirming care for minors

Conservatives in the one-house Nebraska Legislature announced early this month that they would amend the trans health bill to squeeze in the abortion restrictions, combining the two most contentious measures of the session.

By Associated Press - May 20, 2023
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WWOT 6 reporter Bella Caracta gives a stand-up interview in the Capitol rotunda to her news station as protestors from both sides put their signs in front of one another during a final reading on LB574, the Let Them Grow Act, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Kenneth Ferriera/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)
Reporter Bella Caracta gives a stand-up interview in the Capitol rotunda to her news station as protestors surround her, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Kenneth Ferriera/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Conservative Nebraska lawmakers are expected to have just enough votes to pass a bill Friday that combines a ban on gender-affirming care for minors with a 12-week abortion ban.

The mood in the Nebraska Capitol since the hybrid measure was advanced Tuesday by a single vote has been volatile. Lawmakers have traded insults and promises of retribution on the legislative floor and protesters have loudly voiced their displeasure even in the days after vote.

Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh has led an effort to filibuster nearly every bill this session — even ones she supports — to protest the ban on gender-affirming care for minors. She has railed against conservatives who voted for the hybrid bill and warned that people, medical professionals and businesses will leave the state over it.

Cavanaugh declared in early March that she would “burn the session to the ground over this bill,” and she and a handful of progressive allies have followed through since. They have introduced hundreds of amendments and motions to slow every bill at every stage of debate, impeding the work of the Legislature and sending leadership scrambling to prioritize which bills to push through.

The day after lawmakers merged the abortion limits with the trans health bill, she clashed with Sen. Julie Slama, who insinuated that conservatives were supporting the ban on gender-affirming care to retaliate against Cavanaugh. Slama noted that the ban did not initially have the 33 votes needed to survive.

“But then Machaela Cavanaugh got up and ran her mouth because she was just overjoyed that the national media was here to give her some more attention,” Slama said. “So that gave us 33 votes.”

Cavanaugh responded that she was willing to suffer conservatives’ scorn.

“But it’s going to cost you something, colleagues,” she said. “I am going to take all of the time. Every single, solitary minute of it to make sure the speaker has to decide what actually gets scheduled in these last handful of days.”

Conservatives in the one-house, officially nonpartisan Legislature announced early this month that they would amend the trans health bill to squeeze in the abortion restrictions, creating a bill that combines the two most contentious measures of the session.

That unconventional move came after conservatives failed to advance a bill that would have banned abortion once cardiac activity can be detected — which happens around six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. Nebraska currently bans abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Legislative rules state that a bill failing to defeat a filibuster must be tabled for the year. So opponents were surprised when conservatives announced a plan for a 12-week ban. Progressive lawmakers say it was an underhanded way to ramrod through a ban after the issue had already failed. Conservatives say they view it as a compromise.

A supermajority of 33 votes are needed Friday to end debate, after which a simple majority of the Legislature’s 49 lawmakers can pass the hybrid bill. Republican Gov. Jim Pillen has said he would sign it into law. Because an emergency clause is attached to the bill, it will take effect immediately.


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