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Nebraska bill would ban antigay discrimination at four institutions

Nebraska bill would ban antigay discrimination at four institutions

The Nebraska legislature gave its approval Thursday to a proposal that would ban discrimination against gay employees at four major research institutions in the state. The discrimination ban would apply to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Creighton University, and Boys Town National Research Hospital. All four institutions receive money from the state's tobacco settlement fund for health-related research. Officials with all four institutions said they already have policies covering sexual orientation discrimination. Because they already have those policies, adopting the discrimination proposal Thursday is redundant, said Omaha senator Jim Jensen, chairman of the legislature's health committee. Even so, the legislature's action is important because it provides an explicit prohibition in state law, said its sponsor, Omaha senator Ernie Chambers. Before it becomes law, the bill (LB548) must pass two more rounds in the legislature and be signed by governor Dave Heineman. If it is found that any of the four have discriminated against a gay person, they would not be able to access the research funds, Chambers said. Each of the past four years, the four institutions have shared $10 million a year. The bill advanced Thursday would increase the total amount available for research and other public health needs by $2 million each year. Whether all or some of that would go to additional research has yet to be determined. Lincoln senator Mike Foley was one of nine senators who voted against Chambers's proposal. He said adding the prohibition to law elevates sexual orientation to a protected class similar to race, religion, and sex. If a change like the one Chambers proposed is to be made, proof of a problem should be presented, and, according to Foley, there is none. The vote to adopt Chambers's amendment passed 25-9. The bill then advanced on a 31-5 vote. Foley said he would study what could be done to possibly remove the language during the next stage of debate. Chambers has another bill that would ban antigay discrimination in any workplace in Nebraska. That measure remains stuck in the judiciary committee. (AP)

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