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ENDA stalls?
ENDA stalls?
Congressional leaders tight lipped over legislation

by Lisa Keen - SGN Contributing Writer

Rumors abound this week over the viability of an amendment to add "gender identity" back into the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), including one rumor that an amendment to add gender identity protections back into the legislation might be introduced and debated, but then withdrawn.

Virtually no one was speaking on the record this week about the legislation, with one notable exception. On October 23, the Office of Management and Budget issued a statement saying that the president's senior advisers would recommend he veto the bill. Given similar statements from the White House on the pro-Gay hate crimes legislation, that latest statement did not constitute a surprise.

What has been a surprise, however, has been the legislation's disappearance off the Congressional radar screen in the past week, especially given the momentum the ENDA legislation had just three weeks ago. ENDA passed a House Committee October 16 and was slated to reach the floor last week.

But days went by and the bill went nowhere while House Democratic leaders worked with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the bill's chief sponsor, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) on how to respond to an overwhelming lobby effort by more than 280 LGBT groups to make sure the legislation included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Eventually, Frank and Baldwin announced that House Democratic leaders had agreed to a plan for Baldwin to introduce a gender identity amendment to the bill once it reached the floor.

But last week, the bill still did not go to the floor. When asked why, Stacey Farnen Bernards, press secretary to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, said leadership was "working with" Baldwin "to ensure she has an accurate count of members" in support of her amendment.

Baldwin did not respond to requests for comment. However, when Baldwin announced October 16 that she planned to offer an amendment, she did not indicate that leadership would require that she have an accurate vote count before the House would allow her to introduce it. Now, for the past week, almost no one has been talking and that has created a ripe environment for rumors to fly.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she does not know the status of the legislation or Baldwin's amendment but said she has heard an endless number of rumors. She and others also said they could not predict when the bill might get to the floor -even whether it could be this week or next.

On October 25, a Capitol Hill newspaper called The Hill reported that Baldwin doesn't have the votes for the gender identity amendment. The Hill said two "sources" attending an October 24 breakfast for first-term members of the House said Committee Chair George Miller said the amendment poses a political liability for Democrats and that he would not let it go to the floor.

The amendment would do three things. It would:

oadd and define "gender identity" to the legislation,

oremove any penalty for an employer to create a separate bathroom or dressing facility for an employee based on his or her gender identity, and

orequire that any employee dress codes be applied to an employee's self-identified gender identity.

The language is complicated. For instance, concerning the dress codes, the amendment states that it does not prohibit an employer from requiring an employee to "adhere to reasonable dress or grooming standards" during the employee's work hours at work but that the employer must permit an employee who has "undergone gender transition prior to the time of employment" or has notified the employer that he or she has undergone or is undergoing transition, to adhere to the dress or grooming standards for the gender to which that employee is transitioning to.

The OMB "Statement of Administration Policy" concerning ENDA, issued October 23, does not address any matter concerning the proposed amendment, however it criticizes the ENDA bill itself for using "imprecise and subjective terms that would make interpretation, compliance, and enforcement extremely difficult." The statement further states that the president's senior advisers would recommend a veto because the legislation is "inconsistent with the right to the free exercise of religion" and conflicts with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Halloween on Capitol Hill
Slide Show

photos by Joey - SGN photographer

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