YP Council Corner: Vicki Cunningham
One of the amazing benefits of being a part of the Greater Omaha Chamber Young Professionals Council is the exposure to new experiences. On February 22, I was able to represent at a state legislative hearing.
For the past three years, Senator Morfeld has proposed a change in legislation to extend basic employment protections to Nebraskans based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Supporting the Legislative Bill 173 would add sexual orientation and gender identity as a protective employment class, to the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act, in order to prohibit discrimination.
Before attending the judiciary committee hearing, I was already in support of LB173 because it is the right thing to do. YPs, myself included, believe people simply should not face discrimination because of who they are. All Nebraska citizens should be able to wake up each day assured that at least the State feels they should be free to live as who they are, and that they should not fear workplace discrimination; just as they know that they are protected from discrimination based on factors such as gender, ethnicity and religious beliefs.
Before attending the hearing, I knew the Chamber was in favor of this bill. As I was preparing to speak, I realized exactly why the Chamber supports this crucial legislation. Promoting inclusion and diversity has a tremendous economic impact on our state and our communities. Workforce is a top concern for employers in communities across Nebraska. Talent recruitment is crucial to building our workforce, and the Chamber works hard every day to attract talented people to the state. Unfortunately, we hear feedback constantly about those who are averse to relocating to Nebraska because the state does not offer this protection. LB173 would go a long way in helping the state’s employers to find the talent they need to succeed. It would throw out the welcome mat. We are already in competition with states such as Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin to recruit top talent and all of these states provide for the welcoming message that LB173 would for Nebraska. Especially when researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation identified diversity, recruitment and retention the top workforce themes.
Before attending the hearing, I did not truly understand the deep impact LB173 would have on our community. I know everyone deserves basic human rights. I knew it was good for business. But my support was deepened after listening to the countless tales of discrimination individuals face each day.
These terrible stories of discrimination forced me to think about what it would be like if I were considering a move to a community in another state, wondering if I would be welcome there. What a troubling thought to have to consider; unfortunately, that is the reality of many citizens.
It is important to note, there are individuals who oppose passing LB173. Some have discourse with nontraditional gender identities and or homosexuality due to religious values. It is important to understand religious institutions are exempt from the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act. Personal ideals aside, the main argument of the opposition is, passing LB173 compliance would impose a great burden on our small businesses. Please know, Omaha enacted a more stringent local ordinance providing these same protections. Since 2012, the City has received less than 13 claims filed. Not to mention, in the Omaha metro, many of our employers have nondiscrimination policies in place, and have so for years, that align with LB173. The idea that LB173 would hurt small business owners is erroneous; especially because adherence is only mandatory for employers with 15 or more employees. Yes, business owners who discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity may have to make a change, but I am okay with that.
The Chamber believes our greatest asset is our people and passing LB173 provides a great opportunity to demonstrate this. Enactment of LB173 would send a powerful message. Rejection of LB173 would as well.
Thanks to the testimonies of many engaged citizens, the judiciary committee voted to send the bill to the general file. Meaning, the full Legislature will debate and vote on LB173. If you are interested in supporting LB173, please reach out to your Nebraska State Senator and ask him or her to vote yes on LB173.