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Nebraska ballot initiative would eliminate state Board of Education

A sponsor of the petition, said the initiative’s goal is to “give the power back to the people that are dealing directly with the children”

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LINCOLN – A petition drive to eliminate the Nebraska Board of Education, shifting oversight to the governor’s office, is underway. 

The proposal, which would change the state constitution, plans to replace the Nebraska Department of Education, the state Board of Education and education commissioner with a new Office of Education. The office’s director would be appointed by the governor, contingent on a state Senate confirmation. It would need 125,000 signatures by next July to make it to November’s ballot. 

Kelli Brady, a sponsor of the petition, said the initiative’s goal is to “give the power back to the people that are dealing directly with the children,” according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Yet, critics say it would do the opposite and give too much power to the governor. 

“I think Nebraska really is in good hands with the way we have it,” said Maureen Nickels, president of the state Board of Education.

The petition is one of an onslaught of “Restore the Good Life” initiatives — including a Critical Race Theory ban and a vaccine requirement ban, among others — sponsored by Republican Michael Connely, a 2022 gubernatorial candidate in Nebraska. 

“There is no time to wait until after the elections in 2022 before we begin to move on fixing these problems,” Connely wrote in a blog post about the initiative in July. “There is no time to discuss positions. We must act now! Step up and help me do it. YOU take the power.”

“I want this one on the 2022 ballot even more than I want the Medical Freedom (no required Vax) and 2nd Amendment initiatives,” he added, noting it “will be harder though” because of the amount of signatures needed. 

In May, Connely took to Facebook to warn of “socialist indoctrination” in schools. “It is SO infested now, we MUST burn down the house and build a smaller cleaner house,” he said. 

The measure comes after clashes between Nebraska Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and the Education Department. 

Earlier this year, the board considered adopting new health education measures that would have incorporated teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation. Rickets strongly disapproved of the standards. 

“The new standards from the department would not only teach young children age-inappropriate content starting in kindergarten, but also inject non-scientific, political ideas into curriculum standards,” he said. 

The board abandoned the proposed recommendations. 

In a statement to the World-Herald, Rickets did not take a stance on the ballot initiative. 

“The Nebraska Department of Education should respect that parents are the primary educators of their children, and the agency must continue to be accountable to the people of Nebraska,” he said. “Any changes to the structure of the department would need to be approved by voters through an amendment to the Nebraska State Constitution.”

Nebraska State College System board passes gender identity policy opposed by Ricketts:

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Nebraska

Anti-LGBTQ+ group forces repeal of Lincoln LGBTQ rights ordinance

Two council members voting to rescind are openly gay. They said they voted to rescind fearing the measure would not survive at the ballot box

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Nebraska State Capitol building & downtown Lincoln (Photo by Chris Dyer)

LINCOLN, Ne. – The City Council in Nebraska’s capital city has rescinded an anti-discrimination measure passed by the city council on February14 of this year which updated Title 11 of the city’s municipal code.

Known as the “Fairness Ordinance,” it included language clarifying and updating protections related to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability rights, family and martial status, as well as military and veteran status.

In a 4-3 vote Monday to rescind, the city had faced a successful petition effort by the Nebraska Family Alliance, a vehemently anti-LGBTQ+ conservative group that would have put the measure on the November ballot.

The Nebraska Family Alliance had launched the petition effort a day after the measure was adopted by the council in February, painting the effort as a “transgender bathroom ordinance.” The group contended the measure will force businesses, churches, and private schools to allow “trans-identified biological men to use women’s restrooms, locker rooms and showers if they identify as women.” 

The anti-LGBTQ+ group characterized the council’s action as allowing broad definitions of sex, public accommodations, and sexual harassment. According to Bowling citizens could be held liable for tens of thousands of dollars in fines simply for expressing their religious/Christian beliefs if it has the “effect” of creating an “offensive” environment.

Council members voting to rescind — Tom Beckius and James Michael Bowers — are openly gay. They said they voted to rescind the protection for fear the measure would not survive at the ballot box. Beckius also noted that LGBTQ members of the community are already protected under a 2020 Supreme Court ruling saying that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under Civil Rights Act.

The Associated Press reported Councilman Bennie Shobe, who had declined to say how he would vote before Monday, joined Beckius, Bowers and Richard Meginnis in voting to rescind. Shobe, who is Black, said he did so because civil rights should not be decided by public vote. He noted that his parents went to segregated schools and lived as second-class citizens in Kentucky until the U.S. Supreme Court and the Civil Rights Act guaranteed their rights under the law.

“However, if the civil rights of my parents had been put to a vote of the people, I am confident they would have been denied,” Shobe said.

Had the petition been added as ballot referendum, ACLU of Nebraska Legal and Policy Counsel Sara Rips said her group would have challenged it in court.

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Nebraska

Nebraska capital city LGBTQ+ “Fairness Ordinance” challenged

Critics allege citizens could be held liable for tens of thousands of dollars in fines simply for expressing their religious/Christian beliefs

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Nebraska State Capitol building & downtown Lincoln (Photo by Chris Dyer)

LINCOLN – A measure passed by the city council of Nebraska’s capital city a month ago on February14 updated Title 11 of the city’s municipal code. Known as the “Fairness Ordinance,” it included language clarifying and updating protections related to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability rights, family and martial status, as well as military and veteran status.

Critics contend that the measure will force businesses, churches, and private schools to allow “trans-identified biological men to use women’s restrooms, locker rooms and showers if they identify as women.” 

The Executive Director of the Nebraska Family Alliance Karen Bowling characterized the council’s action as allowing broad definitions of sex, public accommodations, and sexual harassment. According to Bowling citizens could be held liable for tens of thousands of dollars in fines simply for expressing their religious/Christian beliefs if it has the “effect” of creating an “offensive” environment.

“We want Lincoln to be a fair and welcoming place for all people. Unfortunately, there was nothing fair about the ordinance passed by the city council,”  Bowling said.

The Nebraska Family Alliance the day after the council action launched the “Let Us Vote” referendum initiative, to gather signatures that would force the City Council to put the “Fairness Ordinance” on the ballot in November or rescind the law entirely.

The referendum initiative needed 4,137 signatures, equivalent to 4% of voters in Lincoln. But petitions were signed by more than 18,500 voters in just 15 days Bowling announced in a press conference last week. 

“Today is about due process,” she said, “to give a voice to Lincoln residents who love their city and love their neighbors. These petitions were circulated in every area of the city and every demographic,” Bowling said, adding that they received signatories from over 72 churches. 

“Slovic, Ukranian, Vietnamese and Spanish-speaking churches of both Protestant and Catholic denominations have participated. Our friends from the Islamic Center also signed petitions as well as Republicans, Democrats and Independents,”  she said.

She added that the initiative is “nonpartisan” and included people of different perspectives. 

“Both proponents and opponents to the ordinance signed petitions because they believe the gravity of the issue should go to the vote of the people or the city council should rescind their decision,” Bowling said.

The ACLU of Nebraska is committed to educating and mobilizing voters if a challenge to Lincoln’s new nondiscrimination updates goes to voters the organization said in a press release.

“We’re proud to support this ordinance along with Lincoln’s business leaders, religious communities, young professionals and community organizations,” ACLU of Nebraska Legal and Policy Counsel Sara Rips said.

“It’s unfortunate that a vocal fraction of our community has chosen to use harmful and hateful misinformation to divide our city in an attempt to turn the clock back on basic human rights. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly on the job, when creating a home for themselves and their families, and in public life. We are ready to work to ensure Lincoln supports equality and to make sure no one in our community is left behind,” Rips added.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reported that at least four council members said they support putting the policy up for a vote. Such a vote would occur either in a special election or in November’s general election. 

However, Dave Shively, Lancaster County’s election commissioner, told the Journal-Star that Nebraska state law doesn’t permit the holding of a special election so close to the date of a regularly scheduled election. 

 

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Lesbian parents battle Nebraska for equal parental rights

The lawsuit challenges unconstitutional discrimination toward same-sex applicants in the parental acknowledgement process

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Erin Porterfield & Kristin Williams with their sons Kadin, 19 & Cameron, 16 (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the ACLU of Nebraska)

LINCOLN – Two Omaha women and their teenage sons filed a lawsuit in the District Court of Lancaster County on Monday, seeking to establish full parenting protections and ensure same-sex parents in similar situations no longer face discriminatory treatment under outdated state laws and regulations.

The ACLU of Nebraska and Omaha law firm Koenig | Dunne have teamed up to serve as co-counsel on the case.

The lawsuit challenges unconstitutional discrimination toward same-sex applicants in the parental acknowledgement process.

Erin Porterfield and Kristin Williams started their family through Assisted Reproductive Technology in 2002. Each woman gave birth to one of their boys and each has always been an active and loving parent to both children. Each also has a court order establishing an in loco parentis relationship with the other son – a temporary legal status that acknowledges a person has put themselves in the position of a parent but stops short of full parental rights.

The women have unsuccessfully tried to work through options so that each mother is fully legally recognized as a parent of both sons. In 2018, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) denied an application to amend one son’s birth certificate and denied the request again after a hearing.

This summer, the women submitted Voluntary Acknowledgments of Parentage using amended gender-neutral versions of the current form used by DHHS, a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity that only serves to identify fathers. DHHS denied the acknowledgments on Sept. 29, listing “the only routes to legal parentage” in a letter, all of which are unavailable to the women. 

The lawsuit argues DHHS is violating constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process by refusing to follow state law for same-sex parents on the same terms as it does for unmarried opposite-sex parents.

“While we spend our parenting time the same as most good parents — showing up for show choir and band competitions, making sure homework is done, teaching values and manners, and gently guiding our boys to be their truest selves regardless of cultural expectations — we haven’t had the luxury of peace of mind that should something happen to one of us our boys would seamlessly be afforded the government benefits other families take for granted,” Williams said.

“Our sons are our entire world and we want to make sure we’re doing right by them,” Porterfield said. “Our boys have a right to the security of having both parents on their birth certificates, a required document in so many life changes and decisions. That’s why this matters to us. It’s about looking out for our sons.”

In an interview with WOWT TV channel 6, an NBC-affiliated television station in Omaha, Nebraska, the women told NBC News 6 reporter Gina Dvorak, “We were never able to marry because by the time the supreme court had awarded that right to gay people, we had split as a couple,” Williams said. “We continued to care for both of our children as any couple would with shared custody.”

Achieving full parental rights would allow both equal rights to make decisions about various aspects of care — from medical, to educational, to estate planning, etc. — for both their sons.

“So if I were to get hit by a bus and my will gave half my estate to Kadin, he could be taxed as if her were a stranger to me, and same is true if Erin passed and half her estate when to Cameron, he could be taxed as if he were a stranger to her,” Williams says.

“If they were in a terrible position to have to make decisions based on end of life decisions for me or for Kristin, the birth certificate, the parentage piece… I mean, it’s hard to even think about,” Porterfield said. “But that moment, you don’t want to haggle about who has decision making opportunity regarding end of life decisions for a parent.”

In addition to seeking court acknowledgement that both women are equal mothers to their sons, the lawsuit requests a declaration that DHHS must apply state law and regulations related to Voluntary Acknowledgments of Paternity without regard for the gender of the acknowledging parent. 

Sara Rips, ACLU of Nebraska Legal & Policy Counsel, said the lawsuit underscores the harm of laws and procedures that only work for one kind of family.

“This civil rights case is about equal treatment for families with same-sex parents,” Rips said. “Erin and Kristin made the choice together to start and raise a family. They have both been loving and involved moms to these boys since birth. I know that if one of them were a man, the department would have accepted their acknowledgment without any thought or inquiry. Instead, these women are facing discriminatory treatment that’s clearly unconstitutional. Once again, LGBTQ Nebraskans must appeal to the courts to affirm that they are entitled to the same treatment as anyone else.”

Recognition as parents would guarantee Porterfield and Williams’ equal rights to make decisions concerning the care of their boys, ranging from education to estate planning.

Angela Dunne, managing partner at Koenig | Dunne, said the case points to the need to equalize the treatment of parents across the state.

“In the area of family law, we are once again seeing same-sex families attempt to protect their most precious rights to parent only to be thwarted by gender-specific language that does not support the ever-changing face of families,” Dunne said. “We have a biological mom and an in loco parentis mom, and we are legally unable to permanently preserve their legal rights to their children and the children’s legal rights to have two parents. We hope this lawsuit will remedy this deficiency and protect our legally vulnerable families.”

This lawsuit is the ACLU of Nebraska’s second LGBTQ rights case this year. In March, the Nebraska Supreme Court unanimously decided in favor of two married women who had been wrongfully denied an opportunity to adopt a child they have raised from birth.

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