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Revised bill banning hair discrimination in Nebraska passes first round of voting

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 10:34 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - It’s back and lawmakers say, it’s “better.”

An updated bill banning hair discrimination in the workplace, which was vetoed last summer, was unanimously advanced from general file Tuesday in a 38-0 vote.

That bill, LB 451, is sponsored by State Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha and would be the first law he helps pass as a politician.

He joked that despite not having hair of his own, the legislation is a serious matter and one dear to his heart because his constituents have made it clear: it’s important.

“There are many women in my community who wear their hair naturally, would like to go to work wearing their natural hair, without having to conform to corporate grooming standards just to be accepted at their place of employment,” he said.

The senator said his daughter also helped inspire the legislation. He said he hopes when she grows up and joins the workforce, she’ll be embraced in an environment that allows women with textured hair to be successful.

That’s not always been the case for many women of color.

Ashlei Spivey founded I Be Black Girl, a collective for Black women, femmes, and girls to access and reach their full potential. Spivey’s experiences in workplace settings have not all been pleasant.

“I have been in workplaces where folks have touched my hair. They centered and started meetings where I am the only black woman in the room with ‘Is my hair real?’ ” Spivey said. “It’s disheartening. I have a family that I have to provide for and I wasn’t let go or treated differently because I had poor work ethic.”

That’s why Spivey is advocating for LB 451 to be signed into law. She, along with IBBG, even helped gather people to share testimonials to ensure lawmakers understood the weight of the proposed legislation.

Spivey described the organization as a group of women who “show up” for each other, advocating for legislation that affects Black women, investing in programs led by Black women, participating in philanthropic investments that directly help Black women and so much more.

“Nebraska has an opportunity to really create inclusive workplaces where folks can really show up as their authentic selves, and that’s what we need here,” she added.

But it was the hyper-focus on black and brown communities that was part of the reason Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the initial bill.

The governor said he supported its goal but wanted it to include language that didn’t exclude other races, whom he said also wear protective styles. LB 451 outlines protective styles to include braids, locks, and twists.

That, along with a provision recommended by Ricketts to include grooming standards for “employers centered on health and safety” were among the reasons he didn’t give it the green light in 2020.

Senator McKinney said he’s been working with the governor to expand the verbiage. The bill now expands the definition of race to include characteristics associated with race such as skin color, hair texture, and protective hairstyles. It also allows an employer to implement health and safety standards regulating characteristics associated with race as long as they are non-discriminatory and applied equally to all employees, and if good faith efforts to accommodate an employee have been made.

6 News reached out to the governor’s office for comment on the updated bill, but there was no immediate response.

The bill has two more stops: The next is select file, and then a final reading. After that, it lands on ghe Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

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