Friday
March 9, 2007
SGN.org
Volume 35
Issue 10
 
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Legislative Update
House committee to hold hearing on Senate domestic partnership bill
Judiciary Committee to hear SB 5336 on March 16

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Domestic partnership legislation, Senate Bill 5336, will receive a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, March 16, at 8 a.m. The bill passed the Washington State Senate on March 1 and was referred the committee for further action.

The Judiciary Committee had approved the House version of the bill, House Bill 1351, on February 7. "It's not a second hearing. This will be the first hearing in the House on the Senate bill. This is the normal required process," explained Representative Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, who is Gay.

Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, is one of two openly Gay legislators who sit on the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, is the other. All together, the seven Democrats on the committee, who represent the majority, are co-sponsors of HB 1351. The four Republicans on the committee are not.

"I would add that the bill is likely to pass, since a majority of our members [on the committee] are co-sponsors," concluded Pedersen.

Although it is not unusual for Senators to speak on bills they sponsor during House hearings, State Senator Ed Murray has told the Seattle Gay News on Thursday that he had no plans to address the committee.

"Sometimes the prime sponsor from the other house speaks," said Murray. "That is not my plan on this one, because the bill has strong advocates in the House."

SB 5336 extends domestic partnerships to same-sex couples and senior citizens over the age of 62. If passed, it would create a central state registry of domestic partnerships at the Secretary of State's office. Couples who file an affidavit of domestic partnership and pay a fee would be covered. The bill would extend, among other rights, the right of a person to visit a partner in the hospital, make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, make funeral arrangements, and attain inheritance rights in the absence of a will.

Introduced last January, the Senate and House domestic partnership bills have moved swiftly through the Legislature. The Senate Committee on Government Operations and Elections voted on February 5 to send the bill on to the full Senate. Likewise, the House Judiciary Committee voted to do the same on February 7.The Senate vote had been seen as the biggest hurdle for the legislation, which now appears headed for passage this session.

The House version of the bill has 56 co-sponsors - more than half of the House members. Yet, the four openly Gay lawmakers in the House, including Joe McDermott, D-Seattle, the primary sponsor of HB 1351, say they have been busy trying to line-up undecided lawmakers.

"In the House, we are focusing on speaking with colleagues who did not sponsor the bill to encourage them to vote for it -- the more, the better," said Pedersen. "Those conversations are important opportunities for us to share our stories about why these protections are so important for our families."

Pedersen said support from the region's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community is essential to winning over the wary legislators. "If there are LGBT people who live in districts where the representatives did not co-sponsor the bill, they should contact their representatives and ask them to vote for the bill," he said.

In a narrow 5-4 decision last July, the Washington state Supreme Court had ruled to uphold the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which bars same-sex couples from access to marriage. Washington State's five openly Gay legislators sought to rectify the inequity by introducing domestic partner legislation and a bill to legalize marriage for same-sex couples in both the House and Senate. The marriage equality bills are not likely to move forward this session.

Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, had introduced a join resolution earlier this session to amend the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman in response to the lawmakers' pro-LGBT bills. However, his proposed amendment died in committee last week.

Despite the limited scope of the domestic partnership legislation, some legislators worry that the measure will lead to full marriage equality for same-sex couples. The five openly Gay lawmakers have been clear that marriage is indeed their ultimate goal.

"While the bill provides some important protections, we need to continue to build public and legislative support to move forward with marriage equality," said Upthegrove.

Should the Senate version of the domestic partnership bill pass out of the Judiciary Committee, it will go the Rules Committee before heading to the floor of the House for a vote. House leadership has said they support the legislation and Governor Christine Gregoire has said she would sign the bill should it cross her desk.

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