April 19, 2014

Sponsor of workplace sexual orientation bill encouraged (AUDIO)

Sen. Danielle Conrad

Sen. Danielle Conrad

The sponsor of a measure that would have added sexual orientation to the state workplace anti-discrimination laws says she’s encouraged, even though the measure died this legislative session.

State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln says, overall, she’s pleased she got the votes needed to pass LB 485, though not enough to overcome a filibuster against it.

Conrad believes the Judiciary Committee addressed the strongest objections to the bill by strengthening a religious exemption clause in the bill to include not just churches, but other religiously-based institutions, organizations, and schools.

“Striking an appropriate balance between respecting different perspectives on this matter, but insuring workplace fairness for public employees and private sector employees,” Conrad tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Much of eight hours of legislative debate on LB 485 centered on religion. Both supporters and opponents quoted the Bible and religious writings and gave testimony to their faith backgrounds as they debated the moral ramifications of passage or defeat of the measure.

Economics entered the debate as well.

Some complained that passage of the bill would add more burdensome regulation to business and invite lawsuits. Others responded that if Nebraska didn’t act, some businesses might not consider locating in the state.

LB 485 would have added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes listed in state anti-discrimination laws which includes race, color, religion, sex, disability, and national origin.

Conrad has to leave the legislature, but says the issue isn’t going anywhere.

“I will be working very hard to find a new introducer of this legislation since I’ll be leaving the legislature due to term limits,” Conrad says. “And I think that we have plenty of good candidates in that regard.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Sidney lands $10M truck stop/restaurant/store

Sidney is welcoming a major business development to the Panhandle.

Love’s Travel Stop and Country Store plans to invest up to $10-million to build a facility in Sidney with 100 truck stalls, a restaurant and 24-hour roadside assistance service.

Project Manager Steve Walters told the city council why Love’s wants a presence in Sidney.

“You guys are reaping the benefit of a decision that Wyoming made,” Walters says. “Wyoming raised their diesel fuel tax. It used to be cheaper to fuel in Cheyenne than it was in Nebraska. Now, it’s cheaper to fuel in Sidney before they get to Cheyenne. Sidney had been on our radar for quite some time and when that decision was made (by Wyoming), it really bumped it up on our priority list.”

Love’s hopes to start construction in Sidney soon. The facility should open early in 2015.

By Dave Collins, KSID, Sidney

Sexual orientation workplace bill cannot overcome filibuster (AUDIO)

Whether including sexual orientation to state workplace anti-discrimination laws would help or hurt business in Nebraska was debated as supporters failed to overcome a filibuster in the legislature.

Much of eight hours of legislative debate on LB 485 centered on religion. Both supporters and opponents quoted the Bible and religious writings and gave testimony to their faith backgrounds as they debated the moral ramifications of passage or defeat of the measure.

Economics entered the debate as well.

Some complained that passage of the bill would add more burdensome regulation to business and invite lawsuits.

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha contended it would infringe on the religious rights of small business owners.

“Our state government shouldn’t be in charge of telling small business owners who have religious objections to check their religious faith at the door of their home when they leave for work in the morning,” McCoy stated.

Yet, Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney countered the state must accommodate changes in the workplace in order to attract business to Nebraska.

“It’s going to be the new young people, but it’s also going to be economics,” Hadley stated. “It’s going to be hiring the most capable person you can hire. It’s going to be an economic issue as well as a moral issue and Nebraska cannot stand out as an island, by itself, if we’re going to move ahead.”

Supporters, though, couldn’t move past the filibuster mounted against the measure. They fell seven votes short of the total needed to end it, killing the bill for the session.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min]

Debate on sexual orientation rights in workplace begins (AUDIO)

Debate has begun in the legislature on a very contentious issue: whether the state should add sexual orientation to its employment anti-discrimination laws.

Nearly three hours of legislative debate discussed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender Nebraskans against the backdrop of religious freedom.

Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, sponsor of LB 485, tells colleagues the bill protects people of faith.

“And that’s one of the important aspects of the Judiciary Committee amendments, which extends a broad religious exemption to not only churches, but other institutions, other organizations, and schools,” Conrad says.

Conrad says it is past time for Nebraska to add sexual orientation to the list of protected classes that includes race, color, religion, sex, disability, and national origin. She argues that Nebraskans face the real possibility of losing their job based on their sexual orientation.

Opponents counter the addition would increase the number of lawsuits business owners face.

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha worries religious exemptions included in the bill won’t be enough.

“Similar laws to 485 have been used across the country, not as a shield against discrimination, but as a sword to punish business owners and people of faith,” McCoy contends.

The debate Thursday afternoon stopped just short of three hours. Legislators are done for this week, with only one full week of the session left. After another five hours of debate on Monday, supporters can call for a cloture vote to end the filibuster against it.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Pierce Elevator cannot raise the cash, closes for good

The debt is too deep. The Pierce Elevator Company will close, for good.

Pierce Elevator President Brian Bargstadt surrendered his grain licenses March 4th. He since has been trying to get around $6 million together to pay off the elevator’s debt and re-open.

State Public Service Commission Grain Division Director John Fecht says the needed finances never materialized, forcing the elevator to close permanently.

“It’s going to remain closed,” Fecht tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate WNAX. “The funding mechanisms that we had hoped for didn’t materialize and it’s clear now that the Public Service Commission is going to have to do its liquidation of the grain and we are sending out claim forms and an instructional letter.”

Elevator officials and members of the Public Service Commission met late last week, but officials have not been able to raise the money to re-open the grain elevator.

Fecht says those farmers who still have contracts with the elevator need to make other marketing plans. He advises them to speak with Manager Brian Bargstad about that and to move forward.

“People who have called me, I told them that they need to contact Brian Bargstad to cancel those contracts that were in force and issued as some point in time in the past. And they can make plans to market that grain in a different direction,” Fecht advises.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton