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Prisoner labor bill withdrawnTell North Platte what you think

Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial withdrew his bill (LB 52) Wednesday that would allow certain nonprofit organizations to hire prisoners for labor without pay.

Christensen's bill was based on a work camp in McCook. Debate began Tuesday.

Sen. Ernie Chambers vowed to take the all the time necessary to kill the bill. Chambers persuaded senators to add an amendment to eliminate organizations that discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Christensen said he received phone calls and emails throughout Tuesday after that amendment was adopted.

He also said that, even with his phone ringing all day after the legislative session, he wants his constituents to be able to contact him about these issues.

“I could have stood on the floor boldly and said, you know, I’ll kill this bill if you pass it [Chambers’ sexual orientation amendment], but I wasn’t sure how my constituency would react,” Christensen said, adding, “It was obvious that I should have stood strong like I thought I should.”

He said that constituents across his district urged him to kill the bill after the adoption of the amendment, adding that he received no positive responses from his district.

When arguing against the bill Tuesday, Chambers said he did not approve of having the prisoners work without pay.

He said that he was more comfortable with the bill after his amendment prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation was added.

“It had to do with the conduct of those who wanted to participate in the program,” Chambers said, adding, “By (Christensen) saying that he could not agree to that, it indicates that even where it is a state-sponsored program, he thinks that people who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation should still be able to gain benefits from that program. And I don’t.”

Christensen said that every time there is a protected class of people, there is another lawsuit that could affect businesses. He said he worries that if people are fired because they have low performance in a job that those people could say it was because of their sexual orientation.

“Where are the merits of being hired or fired by the job performance that you do?” Christensen said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t have good work ethic.”

He added that he thinks everyone has the same rights, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Christensen also said that the amendment was an attack on churches, because many churches do not believe in homosexuality and could be thought to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

“There’s a definite attack on them because you can’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, call yourself a Christian, and not obey what the Bible says,” he said. “And the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and an abomination to the Lord.”

He said he would rather exempt the nonprofit churches out of the program rather than leave them in the bill under the amendment. He also wanted to protect the right to freedom of religion.

Chambers also said churches could be entities that would discriminate based on sexual orientation, saying that Christians are “some of the most intolerant people you can find.”

“So knock all these churches out. Knock out a lot of these other organizations,” Chambers said. “And that was my intent. If they’re going to discriminate, there are consequences that will carry, and one of them is that you’re not going to benefit from state programs when that’s your policy. It’s very simple.”

Christensen said he plans to bring the bill back next year without the amendment.

“It’s a good bill. It’s needed,” he said. “It just got attacked and worked. They’ll try to attack it next year, too.”

Chambers agreed that he might oppose the bill again next year.

“I do not change from year to year. I will be the same me next year that I am this year,” Chambers said. “And unlike him, my principles aren’t determined by how many phone calls I may get.”

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 2/27/2013
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