by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), prime sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the US House of Representatives, told The Advocate on January 12 that he expected a committee markup of the bill next month, followed soon after by a vote in the full House.
"I expect the committee to vote on it in February and I think it will pass the House in March," he said.
ENDA would expand the protections of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act - which prohibits discrimination by employers based on race, gender and religion - by extending similar protections to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The House Education and Labor Committee had originally scheduled its ENDA markup in November, but abruptly cancelled it without explanation. While the committee still has not released an official hearing date, committee member Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) confirmed Frank's projection.
Polis told the DC Agenda newspaper that he expected a committee markup this month or next, with passage by the House soon after.
"Once it's been marked up in committee, it's simply a matter of scheduling it for the floor, and that of course depends on what else is coming to the floor, whether it's health care or whatever it is, but it shouldn't take very long," he said.
HRC Legislative Director Allison Herwitt is also expecting committee action within the next month.
"We're hopeful that it will be either January or February, and we're pushing for that," she told reporters.
Nevertheless, committee spokesperson Aaron Albright told reporters that "nothing has been scheduled yet."
Albright indicated that the committee's other legislative responsibilities, including the yet-to-be-concluded health care debate, might delay action on ENDA.
"Health care is the 800-pound gorilla in the room and Chairman [George] Miller is deeply involved in those discussions," Albright said. "But the chairman said it is a priority and he's committed to doing it early this year."
Transgender language being reworked
In his Advocate interview, Frank also revealed that House members were reworking language relating to Transgender workers.
"There continue to be concerns on the part of many members about the Transgender issue, particularly about the question of places where people are without their clothes - showers, bathrooms, locker rooms, etc.," Frank said. "We still have this issue about what happens when people who present themselves as one sex but have the physical characteristics of the other sex, what rules govern what happens in locker rooms, showers, etc."
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she did not believe it was necessary to address situations where people might be partially unclothed in the bill.
"But if members say we need bathroom language, we are prepared to talk about how you do that in ways that are fair and reasonable," she said.
In 2007, the House passed a version of ENDA that excluded Transgender workers. Because then-President George Bush promised to veto it, it was never voted on in the Senate.
The current version of ENDA protects gender identity as well as sexual orientation.
Polis said House members expect to pass "an inclusive ENDA that includes protections based on gender identity."
Herwitt also expressed optimism that the House would be able to pass and inclusive ENDA.
"I think that we're in a really strong place in the House," she said. "I think that, again, when we look at our vote count for final passage, it looks good for a fully inclusive bill."
Senate may be an obstacle
Frank reiterated, as he has said all along, that the biggest hurdle would be the Senate.
"Getting 60 votes for it is going to be tough," he said, "so people need to focus on lobbying Senators."
Keisling expressed cautious optimism about prospects for passage in the Senate.
"Could I name you 60 for the senate right now, that would be a stretch," she said. "But the most important way we can put pressure on the Senate is by passing this in the House."
The HRC's Herwitt said the schedule in the Senate "is a little less clear" than in the House.
"I think that we're going to talk to [Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom] Harkin's staff people, committee staff and try to figure all of that out. What's the timeframe that they're looking at, how will we envision the bill moving forward in the Senate?" she said.
"I mean, obviously, the Senate provides us more challenges in moving legislation, especially when it is freestanding," she added.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ENDA prime sponsor in the Senate, has said the HELP Committee will take up ENDA "in the spring."
Herwitt also said that inclusion of Transgender workers is more problematic on the Senate side than in the House.
"We have education that we need to do and have conversations," she said. "I know that Sen. Merkley and his staff have been really on top of this, and having those conversations staff-to-staff - and the senator is having colleague-to-colleague conversations. And we just need to continue some of that process and then see where we are with the vote count."
Asked whether the gender identity provisions could be a sticking point in the Senate, Herwitt replied, "I think what I'm saying is we're still in the process of figuring all of that out. The conversations are still happening, the education process is still ongoing and obviously we want to make sure that the bill moves forward when it can move forward as a fully inclusive bill."
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