Nebraska gov urges citizen vote on civil rights laws


Nebraska’s governor says city ordinances barring discrimination against gay and transgender people should be put to public votes.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports that Gov. Dave Heineman, at a news conference in Lincoln, cited a recent opinion from the state attorney general’s office. It said cities would have to amend their charters to offer protections to groups not covered by state law.

The opinion issued May 4 said voters could approve changes to city charters to extend protections to groups not covered by state law, but local governments lack the authority. Neither city charter was amended.

Opinions issued by the office lack the force of law but guide legislators and officials statewide and often are cited in disputes over hotly debated issues.

Nebraska’s anti-discrimination laws and federal regulations don’t extend protection to gay and transgender people.

Omaha narrowly adopted an ordinance in March that said employers, employment agencies, job training programs, labor groups, public accommodations and businesses that contract with the city are barred from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. It provides exemptions for religious organizations.

Omaha city attorney Paul Kratz has said the city’s legal team disagrees with the attorney general office’s opinion, and he doesn’t think it will have any effect on the new ordinance.

Backers argued that the proposal would make Omaha a more welcoming city to a diverse workforce. Opponents countered that the proposals would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and open up businesses to lawsuits.

Lincoln’s ordinance was approved on May 14 but won’t go into effect for 15 days.

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