A spat between two state senators broke out on the legislative floor before lawmakers left Lincoln for a long weekend.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha told colleagues he cannot understand why his remarks following a Judiciary Committee meeting offended Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha.
Chambers added he won’t back off his criticism of the Catholic Church and other religious organizations which oppose adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state anti-discrimination statute due to their theological stance on homosexuality.
Chambers issued a warning to church leaders who lobby at the Capitol.
“I make the admonition to them that the referee makes at every prize fight: protect yourself at all times,” Chambers stated during legislative floor debate. “You come here. You brought your stuff here. And you’re going to get from me what these other lobbyists get when I disagree with them and what they’re dealing with.”
After a Judiciary Committee meeting earlier in the week, Chambers remarked that if it were up to him, there would be no religious exemption in the anti-discrimination statute. Chambers said he would target the Catholic Church when LB 586 makes it to the floor for debate.
The comments offended Sen. Krist who briefly sought to return the bill to the Judiciary Committee, but later backed off and said he would not interfere with the bill moving forward to be considered by the entire legislature. The committee advanced the bill to the Unicameral on a 5-2 vote, with one member abstaining.
Chambers broadened his warning during a monologue Thursday. Chambers, who has tied up legislative debate already this year, warned fellow lawmakers he is not done killing legislation.
“Now, any of you all who think that I am bluffing, try me,” Chambers said. “And I remind you, I’m 77-years-old. You all should be able to wear me out, but I defy you.”
The statement made from the legislative floor by Chambers brought a response from Krist.
“I will not be intimated by Sen. Chambers,” Krist told fellow senators, adding that he and Chambers had had a long talk on a wide range of issues after Chambers’ comments surfaced.
“But if the charge is that I should challenge him and his bills, then I accept that challenge,” Krist said.
Krist said he decided against making a motion to return the bill to committee, opting instead to make his case once the bill reaches the legislative floor for debate.
“At which point I will still have concerns about the constitutionality of a closed class and some religious exemptions as an amendment,” Krist said. “But I will do that on the floor as it should be done.”
AUDIO: Sen. Ernie Chambers defends his remarks. Sen. Bob Krist responds. [12 min.]