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Use the Tools You Have for Power

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State Sens. John Cavanaugh, Machaela Cavanaugh, Tony Vargas, Danielle Conrad, Jen Day and George Dungan join in support of trans youth at a rally in the Nebraska State Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

I think we’d all agree here that the filibuster is bad. But if the tool exists, you use it for the best aims you can and this state senator in Nebraska holding up the entire state’s political process to stop an anti-transgender bill is doing good work here.

Nebraska’s state legislature has been unable to pass a single bill this year. One senator’s distaste with the advancement of a bill seeking to ban gender-affirming care for Nebraskans under 19, coupled with the state’s unique filibustering rules, has brought the session to a standstill.

While filibustering is not rare for Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, Democratic state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh is the first lawmaker to filibuster every bill introduced to the floor, said lawmakers and political scientists. Traditionally, senators have only stalled debate around the bills they oppose.

If the filibuster does not end, the clerk of the legislature predicted, as few as 30 bills out of the roughly 820 that were introduced would be debated this session. Senators opposing the bill seeking to restrict gender-affirming care say this is the first time their legislature has become a part of the national culture war around transgender rights. Lawmakers also say the bill and the filibuster are a sign that one of the least-polarized legislatures in the country is becoming partisan.

“This bill legislates hate and targets trans youth,” Cavanaugh told The Washington Post. “Legislating hate is not our job. Our job is to protect our children from the harm this bill could cause them.”

She has defined her own priorities clearly. “I will burn this session to the ground over this bill,” she told the body last month. “I have nothing but time, and I am going to use all of it.”

After three weeks of the filibuster, Cavanaugh and Speaker John Arch came to an agreement Thursday morning. She will take a pause from the filibuster for one afternoon, and he will schedule the debate for LB574, the bill she is opposing, for Tuesday morning, when the legislature comes back from a four-day recess.

Then the filibuster will resume.

We might have ideal of governance out there. But it sure as hell doesn’t exist in Nebraska. If the state legislature is going to destroy the human rights of a minority population, we use the tools we have to stop it. They can get of the rule next session if they don’t like it. Maybe that’s better in the long run. But right now, this tool is being used to fight for justice.

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