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Nebraska hasn't passed a single bill this session, amid filibusters over trans rights

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh speaks before the Nebraska Legislature in March as part of an effort to filibuster every bill that comes before the legislature this session.
Margery Beck
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh speaks before the Nebraska Legislature in March as part of an effort to filibuster every bill that comes before the legislature this session.

Welcome to the NPR series where we spotlight the people and things making headlines — and the stories behind them.

Nebraska lawmakers haven't passed a single bill this session, as a state lawmaker continues a weeks-long filibuster protest over trans rights and vows to "burn this session to the ground" if she has to.

Who is she? Democratic state senator Machaela Cavanaugh.

  • Starting in February, Cavanaugh has filibustered every bill that has come before the legislature this session.
  • She is protesting proposal LB574 — or the "Let Them Grow Act" — which was put forward by a Republican lawmaker.
  • Under the bill's current version, physicians would be barred from providing gender-affirming procedures and care for Nebraska residents younger than 19.
  • Cavanaugh talks for up to 12 hours a day on the floor to prevent bills passing, speaking on everything from the bills themselves to her favorite salads. 
  • And she has made her intentions clear: "If this legislature collectively decides that legislating hate against children is our priority, then I am going to make it painful — painful — for everyone."
  • What is going on? Nebraska's bill is part of a nationwide trend in proposals targeting trans and LGBTQ people.

  • There has been a record number of anti-LBGTQ bills introduced in state legislatures this year, according to data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • As of April 7, the ACLU says it is currently tracking 452 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S. that cover everything from access to healthcare to participating in school activities.
  • This week, the Biden administration announced a new proposal that would make it illegal for schools to broadly ban transgender students from sports teams that align with their gender identity, rather than their assigned sex at birth.

  • Want to learn more about politics and identity? Listen to the Consider This episode about restrictions on drag shows and their history in the U.S.

    Bills on trans issue have surged in recent years.
    Drew Angerer / Getty Images
    Getty Images
    Bills on trans issue have surged in recent years.

    What are people saying?

    Speaking to NPR on Friday, Cavanaugh said she was pushing back against a new trend in politics.

    I don't know why, as a nation, as policymakers, there is this newfound focus on trans children. Trans children have always existed. They have always lived in our society, in our schools, in our families. And all of the sudden, there is a decision by policymakers that we need to do something about them. It doesn't make any sense to me. And so I don't think any policies that restrict the rights of children, because they are trans, are appropriate.

    Cavanaugh acknowledged that important bills were not being passed because of her filibuster, but put the onus on the legislature leaders who have the power to remove proposal LB574.

    The Speaker is in charge of the schedule, and he belongs to the majority party. And they are setting the agenda of what we are accomplishing this session, [and] part of my intention is to force them into deciding what it is that they believe we should be doing as a legislature. And as such, we're not going to pass as many bills as we might in other years, but we are going to have to think about what it is we pass and what is important to us and what we value. And that is going to be reflected back to the people of Nebraska.

    Nebraska state senator Kathleen Kauth, who is the principal sponsor of LB574, said she knew the bill would face opposition, telling Washington Watch With Tony Perkins last month:

    We knew it would be very difficult. It's an incredibly emotional topic. Everyone believes that they are acting in the best interests of children, we're just looking at it from very different sides.

    We want to give these kids every opportunity to let their body grow, to let their brains grow, to let things develop more fully and work through the issues they're experiencing.

    So, what now?

  • The current session in Nebraska ends on June 9 and Cavanaugh said she would continue to filibuster as long as needed.
  • On proposal LB574, Cavanaugh told NPR: "I would love to come back after our recess weekend, and for there to be an end point. That is what I hope for every single day, it is what I am striving for every single day. I continue to remain open to talking about what an end point could be."
  • Learn more:

  • The Biden administration moves to make broad, transgender sports bans illegal
  • Supreme Court won't enforce West Virginia law banning trans athletes from girls' teams
  • Grief and tangled politics were at the heart of Kentucky's fight over new trans law
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Patrick Wood
    Patrick Wood is the digital lead for All Things Considered. Previously, he was a reporter and editor at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.