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Gov. Ricketts vetoes hair discrimination bill

Pete Ricketts
Posted at 5:44 PM, Aug 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-15 23:56:37-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts announced his veto of LB 1060 on Saturday -- a bill that would ban racial discrimination based on protective hairstyles and natural hair textures in the workplace.

On Aug. 11, the bill passed on Final Reading in the Nebraska Legislature; however, lawmakers aren't able to try overriding the governor's decision as the Legislature is no longer in session.

Gov. Ricketts said in a statement that he agrees with the intent of the bill, but believes that it would add a new definition of "race" that would apply in all discrimination cases that come up under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act.

"The bill covers features based on mutable characteristics that are not attributable to one racial group. While hair type is an immutable characteristic, hairstyles can easily be changed. Additionally, the hairstyles named in the bill (locks, braids, and twists) are not exclusively worn by one race," Gov. Ricketts said in the statement.

The governor said he agrees with the goal of the bill, but that it "needs to add protections for employees based upon their immutable hair texture and to also add protections for employers centered on health and safety standards."

He added that he's committed to working with the Legislature early in the upcoming session to enact a statute that will achieve the purpose of the bill in a way that focuses on "immutable race characteristics" while providing employer flexibility.

Ashlei Spivey, Founder of I Be Black Girl and Equity and Inclusion Officer on the ACLU of Nebraska Board of Directors issued the following statement following the announcement:

“Racial discrimination in all forms is wrong and it’s deeply disappointing that natural hair discrimination will remain legal in Nebraska because of the governor’s veto. The bill was supported by the business community, vetted by both the Attorney General’s office and the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission, and most importantly led by Black Nebraska women. It was a commonsense update to our state workplace civil rights laws. The need for this protection is urgent and we hope the governor makes every effort to mitigate the harm of discrimination in the coming months until the bill can be revisited and passed into law. Above all else, this is a missed opportunity to demonstrate a clear commitment to making our workplaces more inclusive and safer for all Nebraskans. Everyone should consider that a loss.“

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who sponsored the bill, said the following in a statement:

"I am deeply disappointed by Governor Rickett's decision to veto my priority bill. I worked with many community stakeholders, the NEOC, and the Attorney General's office to ensure that the intent of the bill was fully realized. This bill had 15 testifiers in support and none in opposition, no cost to the state, and created important protections for women of color in the workplace. It is unfortunate that the Governor and his office never reached out with any of his concerns. The concerns outlined in the Governor's letter about LB1060 were addressed in the committee hearing and again on the floor of the legislature after several hours of debate."

Read Gov. Ricketts' full statement on the decision below.

Dear Mr. President and Members of the Legislature:

I am returning LB 1060 without my signature and with my objections. I agree with the intent of LB 1060 to protect people against racial discrimination.

LB 1060 would add a new definition of "race" that would apply in all discrimination cases arising under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act. The new definition would state "race includes, but is not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles; and protective hairstyles includes, but is not limited to, hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists."

The bill covers features based on mutable characteristics that are not attributable to one racial group. While hair type is an immutable characteristic, hairstyles can easily be changed. Additionally, the hairstyles named in the bill (locks, braids, and twists) are not exclusively worn by one race.

While I agree with the goal, I object to the form of the bill. It needs to add protections for employees based upon their immutable hair texture and to also add protections for employers centered on health and safety standards.

As written, the bill fails to provide health or safety exceptions for employers. For example, employees who work in food service or around heavy machinery are often required to wear their hair a certain length or tie back or cover their hair in order to ensure their safety, as well as the health and safety of the public.

Under LB 1060, an employer would be unable to uniformly apply its grooming policies without fear of violating the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act. Additionally, since the changes in LB 1060 will apply to state agencies and political subdivisions, it will preclude law enforcement agencies across the state from being able to maintain long-standing personal grooming policies.

Clearly, there is a need to provide appropriate protections for African Americans and others so that their unchangeable hair textures cannot be used as a reason for bias or discrimination in the workplace. I am committed to working with the Legislature to enact a statute early in the upcoming session that will achieve this important purpose but in a manner that focuses on immutable race characteristics and provides employer flexibility.

For these reasons, I vetoed LB 1060. Given that the Legislature has adjourned sine die, I filed the vetoed bill with the Nebraska Secretary of State.

Sincerely,

Pete Ricketts
Governor