LINCOLN — A leading Nebraska business group broke new ground Thursday by taking a stand against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry adopted the policy change to align itself with Blueprint Nebraska, a statewide economic development plan released last fall, officials said.
“When we said we’re all in on Blueprint Nebraska, we meant it,” said chamber President Bryan Slone. “Our board of directors unanimously adopted a set of forward-thinking policies to help our organization adopt, engage and execute on the plan however we can be helpful.”
The change brings the state chamber in line with the Omaha and Lincoln chambers, both of which have pushed for anti-discrimination legislation in past years and are backing Legislative Bill 627.
But it puts all three business groups at odds with Gov. Pete Ricketts, a co-founder and advisory board member of Blueprint Nebraska.
“Nebraska is already a welcoming state for people of all backgrounds,” said Taylor Gage, the governor’s spokesman. “The governor opposes adding additional protected classes to state law.”
The final Blueprint Nebraska report did not specifically address workplace discrimination or issues related to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Instead, it included an initiative to “Expand our efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.”
Slone said the state chamber board has adopted all of the Blueprint Nebraska initiatives in general and wanted to take a more specific stand on this particular aspect of diversity and inclusion, both at the state and federal level.
“This is something the State Chamber thought was important to do,” he said.
State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who introduced the most recent bill, said she was pleased with the policy change. She said it fits with the chamber’s emphasis on Nebraska’s worker shortage.
“I cannot thank the chamber enough for their forward thinking and willingness to embrace all people,” she said. “I’m grateful beyond measure.”
LB 627 stalled last year when backers fell short on an attempt to force a vote . Under a policy set by Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk, Pansing Brooks would have to find 33 votes before the bill could be debated again. That’s the number needed for a filibuster-ending cloture motion.
Pansing Brooks said Thursday that the chamber’s new policy may help her collect those votes.
The bill would give lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers the same protection against job discrimination that current law provides for people based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status and national origin.
The bill is similar to Omaha’s anti-discrimination ordinance and to legislation debated repeatedly over the past six years.
Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, who introduced previous anti-discrimination legislation, tweeted that the chamber’s new policy was “a big day for equality and demonstrating that Nebraska is open for business to ALL!”
Big news! The @NebraskaChamber votes to unanimously support Senator @Patty4Nebraska #LGBT work place non discrimination legislation for the first time ever! A big day for equality and demonstrating Nebraska is open for business to ALL! pic.twitter.com/fXyIDUNKpB— Senator Adam Morfeld (@Adam_Morfeld) January 30, 2020
The Nebraska Catholic Conference and the Nebraska Family Alliance both issued statements expressing disappointment in the chamber’s policy position.
“Policies like LB 627 discriminate against people of faith and divide our communities,” the Nebraska Catholic Conference said in a statement.
Opponents of the bill argued that it was unnecessary and would limit employers’ ability to exercise deeply held beliefs. Some questioned claims that the lack of job protection for sexual orientation and gender identity has caused many people to leave Nebraska.