Perspective: What’s Next for Employment Non-discrimination Act?

By Central Voice

Yesterday’s flurry of activity in the US Senate on S. 815, the Employment Non‑Discrimination Act of 2013 (ENDA) raises hopes that the measure will be passed, possibly Wednesday, by that chamber and then sent to the US House for its consideration.

For perspective, here’s where the elusive goal of a Federal LGBT employment law stands:

* Yesterday’s vote was the first time since 1996 that the Senate has voted on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. That measure failed by one vote (49-50).

* Yesterday’s bill as moved forward, reports indicate, includes protections for transexual individuals, a sticking point in earlier efforts to revive ENDA. In its current form, the bill would ban sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in most workplaces.

* Yesterday’s vote did not “pass” the measure. Rather, the vote, 61-30, allows 30 hours for the Senate to debate and offer amendments to the measure as originally presented. The vote means that the threat of a filibuster has been removed.

* The 30-hour discussion and amendment period is crucial to the final version that may or may not be finally voted upon by the full Senate. Amendments are expected to be considered.

* Seven Republicans broke ranks with their party in voting to block any filibusters against the bill. They were joined by all 55 Democrats in the Senate to achieve the 61-30 vote. The technical term for the vote is “cloture” which means the measure moves an important step closer to possible passage.

*Republicans voting for cloture on the bill were Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller, Mark Kirk, Rob Portman and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, as reported earlier by Central Voice.

Obama’s reaction
President Obama’s press secretary said on his behalf that the president “has long supported an inclusive ENDA, which would establish lasting and comprehensive Federal protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Speaker Boehner
“The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel stated in an email sent to several reporters yesterday.

Boehner’s objection seems to reflect Toomey’s fears as expressed to four advocates who last Thursday spoke with one of the senator’s staffers in Harrisburg. One of the advocates, Marilyn Kanuck, told Central Voice that Toomey had concerns that small business owners would not be able to fire people, for example, for poor performance fearing that gay employees may feel they were fired for being the gay and use that circumstance to object to the firing. Toomey’s office indicated he would release a statement, perhaps today, on his vote.

Mara Keisling, National Center for Transgender Equality, has suggested that she does not expect House movement of the bill in this Congress, stating that the Senate vote “will change the playing field once we have a friendlier House that can tackle ENDA.”

Rep. Charlie Dent
In the US House, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent is pushing Boehner.
He told The Washington Post, “I believe the Speaker should allow a vote on this bill. I believe that the American public wants to make sure people are not discriminated against, based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney has indicated that although the administration is not considering an executive order to bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers — a partial way around Congress not passing the bill – no action by the House gives the White House a reason to consider the temporary move.

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