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Obama administration testifies in favor of ENDA
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Obama administration testifies in favor of ENDA

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez testified in favor of ENDA before the US Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Thursday, November 5.

This was first hearing on S 1584, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, in the Senate this year, and the first Senate hearing the measure legislation since 2002.

It was also the first time any official of any administration has testified in the Senate on ENDA, and the first congressional testimony by Perez in his current position as head of the US Justice Department's Civil Rights Division - the nation's top civil rights law enforcement official.

ENDA would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, adding to existing federal protections for "race, color, religion, sex or national origin."

Perez told the Senate Committee his department "regularly" receives complaints about sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.

"It is painfully disappointing to have to tell these working men and women that, in the United States of America in 2009, they may well be without redress because our federal employment anti-discrimination laws either exclude them or fail clearly to protect them," he said.

"We cannot in good conscience stand by and watch unjustifiable discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals occur in the workplace without redress," Perez continued. "We have come too far in our struggle for 'equal justice under the law' to remain silent or stoic when our LGBT brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills or abilities and everything to do with myths, stereotypes, fear of the unknown, and prejudice."

S 1584, the Senate version of ENDA, was introduced in August by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The House of Representatives version was introduced in June by Rep Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

The House Education and Labor Committee held ENDA hearings in September.

ENDA has not come up for a vote in the US Senate since 1996, when a version sponsored by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy was voted down 49-50. Senate rules require 60 Senators to agree to end debate on any measure before it can come up for a vote.

A House version that failed to include Transgender workers passed in 2007, but it was not introduced on the Senate side because then-Pres. George W. Bush had promised to veto it should it pass.

To date, 47 Senators have committed to vote Yes, and only one - Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has announced he will vote No. Both Washington state's Senators - Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell - are committed to vote Yes.

Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel said in a statement issued Thursday, "The testimony of the Obama administration's top civil rights law enforcement official adds to the momentum that is building behind this bill, and there's no reason ENDA can't be on the president's desk for signature during this Congress."

In his first speech to his employees in the Civil Rights Division, Perez promised on October 14 that he would act against anti-Gay discrimination if he got the legal authority to do so.

A week later, passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Bill authorized him to investigate and assist in prosecuting acts of violence against LGBT persons. ENDA would enable Perez to do the same in cases of workplace discrimination.

Perez's boss, US Attorney General Eric Holder supports passage of ENDA, and Pres. Obama has promised to sign it into law should it pass both houses of Congress.

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