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Nebraska lawmaker brings state Legislature to a halt to stop transgender care ban

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh vowed to make the legislative session “painful” if lawmakers try to pass a bill targeting health care for transgender minors.
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A Nebraska Democrat has vowed to filibuster every bill her state Senate colleagues introduce if they support a measure that would restrict certain transition-related health care for minors.

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh began to filibuster — or talking for as long as possible to stop legislation from passing — during a Senate meeting on Thursday night.

“If this Legislature collectively decides that legislating hate against children is our priority, then I am going to make it painful, painful for everyone,” Cavanaugh said during the meeting, which was recorded and shared by local news outlets. “If you want to inflict pain upon our children, I am going to inflict pain upon this body, and I have nothing but time, and I am going to use all of it.” 

“I will burn the session to the ground over this bill."

— STATE SEN. MACHAELA CAVANAUGH

Cavanaugh hopes to block a bill that would bar minors from receiving gender-affirming health care, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery. The measure, introduced by state Sen. Kathleen Kauth, a Republican, would also prohibit any institution or provider of such care to minors from receiving state funding. 

“I will burn the session to the ground over this bill,” Cavanaugh said Thursday.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Monday, Cavanaugh said she is trying to make her colleagues choose between bills that target transgender health care and other legislation. By her math, she said, the Legislature has about 518 hours left to pass no more than 42 bills, which she said isn’t many, particularly because the Senate also has to pass a budget. 

“So I’m just going to practically make sure that my colleagues have to make a choice about what it is they want to do, what our job is,” Cavanaugh told Maddow. “Is our job to legislate hate, or is our job to govern and work on tax cuts and work on the economy? So I’m forcing their hand.”

The unicameral Legislature is officially nonpartisan, but Republicans hold 32 seats to Democrats’ 17, one vote shy of being able to end a filibuster.

Cavanaugh said she filibustered even while she had strep throat because the issue of minors being able to access health care “is too important.”  

“At the end of the day, this is going to hurt children,” she told Maddow. “I don’t care how sick I get. I don’t care how tired I am. I am not going to look back on this moment in time and say I didn’t do everything that I possibly could to fight for and protect children, especially our most vulnerable children, which are trans youth.”

Kauth, who introduced the bill, said in a statement this month that she supports a “watchful waiting” process, which means withholding transition-related medical care outside of therapy to see if children change their minds about their gender identity — an approach that the American Academy of Pediatrics has opposed.

“These children need therapy to deal with the coexisting mental and emotional struggles they are experiencing — not irreversible, harmful and experimental medical procedures,” she said.

Kauth also said that Sweden and Finland have prohibited the use of hormone therapy, puberty blockers and surgery for minors, though that claim is inaccurate. Medical bodies in both countries don’t recommend surgeries for minors and have recently issued more restrictive guidance on puberty blockers and hormone therapy, but both still allow minors to receive the treatment if they meet a list of criteria or are involved in a research study on the effects of the care. 

So far this year, lawmakers in at least 24 states, including Nebraska, have introduced legislation that would restrict transition-related care for minors, according to an NBC News analysis. 

Governors in six states — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah — have signed such restrictions, though federal judges have blocked bans in Alabama and Arkansas from taking effect. 

Similar legislation is awaiting signatures from governors in Mississippi and Tennessee. Tennessee’s current restriction only applies to prepubertal youths, and the new bill would bar transition-related care for all minors.