LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — More than a dozen opponents of a bill that would ban discrimination against gay and lesbian workers in Nebraska refused to cast votes during debate Thursday, quietly halting any further action on the issue in 2015.
After more than four hours of discussion, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, requested it be held over until next year.
Senators took a 20-12 test vote, five votes shy of the 25 the bill would need to advance to second round, indicating it would not pass. Sixteen senators were present but not voting.
Morfeld said he hopes they will take a position in the coming months.
"I think we have a lot of work to do on educating the new senators on this importance of this bill," Morfeld said.
Morfeld and Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln attempted to attract votes with an amendment to highlight and clarify religious exemptions for schools and churches. But opponents worried the language was not strong enough to protect religious organizations.
"This is vague, this is ambiguous, and your interpretation of this and mine could be completely different," said Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, who opposed the bill.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion said he worried the bill would create special protections for certain groups of people. Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft said she believed it would lead to a disproportionate amount of legal trouble for what she believes is a very minimal problem in Nebraska. But many senators who did not support the bill remained simply remained silent.
"We're really grateful it didn't turn into some horrible thing where people were spewing vitriol," said Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who made the bill her priority this year. "I think some of those senators were trying to be kind. I think we've built relationships. I understand why they did it that way, but it didn't necessarily help us any."
Pansing Brooks made an impassioned case on behalf of her son, who is gay and is taking job offers elsewhere.
"I would argue that no parent should have to encourage his child to leave the state to make sure there is no threat of discrimination," she said.
Both the Lincoln and Omaha Chambers of Commerce have backed the bill, saying that Nebraska already struggles to recruit and retain young talent in the state and that anti-discriminatory policies would draw talented employees.
Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha supported the measure, saying a more attractive job market would lure more people to the state and further the Legislature's desire to lower taxes.
Similar ordinances already exist in Omaha, and 21 other states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting discrimination against employees based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Morfeld said he is uncertain whether he or Pansing Brooks will prioritize the measure next year.