by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has good news and bad news for supporters of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
The good news is that the measure could pass the House of Representatives in March.
The bad news is that it will then go to the Senate, where rules require the consent of a supermajority of 60 senators to bring any measure to a vote.
ENDA would expand the protections of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
Speaking to DC Agenda newspaper, Frank said he expects ENDA to come to a vote on the floor of the House in March.
"The speaker has promised me that as soon as it passes the committee, she'll bring it up to the floor of the House," he said.
Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, confirmed to SGN that she wanted to bring ENDA to a vote as soon as possible.
"The speaker has stated over and over her desire to move on it," Hammill said. "When depends on when it's reported out of committee. We try to follow the 'regular order' - in other words, committee first, then floor."
Hammill also denied rumors that the House leadership might delay action on ENDA until they were certain that enough senators had signed on to make passage certain.
"I think you're referring to a Hill story in December," Hammill said. "But she was talking about immigration reform. She doesn't want to hold up ENDA."
According to Frank, the House Education and Labor Committee - which has jurisdiction over the bill - was close to reporting out a compromise version for a floor vote.
"We were very close just before we were snowed out to basically coming to an agreement on a bill that would get a majority vote in the Education & Labor Committee," he said.
One of the sticking points, Frank said, was the language on Transgender protections.
"There has always been a problem with the question of people who are Transgender in situations where people are totally or partially unclothed," he noted.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, indicated that her organization is open to a "fair and reasonable compromise" on language that would cover Trans workers in locker rooms, restrooms, and other workplace situations where they might typically be unclothed.
The version of ENDA passed by the House of Representatives in 2007 excluded Trans workers from federal protection. It was roundly criticized by national LGBT organizations, and the current version includes protections for gender identity.
While ENDA passed the House in 2007, it never came to a vote in the Senate, because then-President George W. Bush promised to veto it should it pass. President Obama has promised to sign ENDA if it comes to his desk.
House easy, Senate hard
Frank expects ENDA to pass the U.S. House easily, even with the language protecting gender identity, but the Senate may pose a problem.
Rep. Jim McDermott, who represents Seattle's 7th Congressional District, is an ENDA co-sponsor. His office told SGN this week that passage in the House is very likely, but reaching 60 votes in the Senate will be difficult.
McDermott's Legislative Aide Toby Whitney told the Martin Luther King County Labor Council in a briefing on February 17 that he could not be certain that ENDA will pass in this session of Congress.
Whitney told labor leaders that the obstacle to passage was the 60-vote threshold in the U.S. Senate.
McDermott staffer Ed Shelleby confirmed to SGN that ENDA is on track for an affirmative vote in the House in March.
"Every indication we have from leadership is that it is [on track]," he said. "Chairman Frank is absolutely right, from everything we know. Rep. McDermott is confident ENDA will pass the House."
"After that," Shelleby added, "it becomes much more nebulous."
Depending on the source, between 223 and 254 Representatives are considered likely Yes votes, far more than the 218 required to pass ENDA.
All six Washington state Democratic Representatives are committed to vote Yes.
Republicans Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers are committed to vote No. Republican Dave Reichert is thought to be leaning towards a Yes vote. He voted for ENDA the last time it came up for consideration in 2007.
Getting to 60
On the Senate side, both of Washington's senators - Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell - are co-sponsors of ENDA.
Again depending on the source, between 55 and 61 senators are considered likely Yes votes. Sixty-one would be barely enough to get the measure to a vote. Fifty-five would not, even though it is a majority of the 100 senators.
When asked for his count, Murray staffer Eli Zupnick told SGN, "I can't give you exact numbers. Sen. Murray supports ENDA and will continue to support it."
"Chairman Harkin has said he will push for passage in this Congress," Zupnick added.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and an ENDA co-sponsor.
John Diamond, Sen. Maria Cantwell's communications director, confirmed to SGN that "Sen. Harkin wants to move the bill this year."
"The house will move the legislation out of committee and on to the floor for a vote this spring, and the Senate will act after the House," Diamond predicted.
While the national LGBT organizations remain publicly optimistic that the Senate will pass ENDA, DC Agenda reports that some activists are saying privately they fear the Senate votes simply are not there.
"What we're hearing is there is just no clear path to pass ENDA in the Senate," said one activist. "They don't think they have 60 votes to pass it."
Another source with ties to Capitol Hill and national LGBT political groups based in Washington was more definitive.
"ENDA has been off the agenda since before the Massachusetts election because they couldn't secure the votes in the Senate," the source told DC Agenda.
March 16 Lobby Day
Meanwhile, other activists are taking a more pro-active approach.
Law professor Dr. Jillian T. Weiss has called for the annual March 16 Transgender Lobby Day to target senators from Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, and West Virginia.
One or both of the senators from those states are identified as "on the fence" - in other words, not yet committed to vote Yes, but persuadable based on their past records on LGBT issues.
Weiss has also committed to provide financial assistance to get constituents from those states to DC.
"If you are from one of these eight states, and you are a currently-unemployed LGBT person who is unemployed because of job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, I would like to help you get there," she says on her blog.
She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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