U.S. Senate battle to pass ENDA heats up - Reid schedules vote on Monday, Nov. 4, on long-stalled measure
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced on October 28 that he would bring ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to the Senate floor in the near future, touching off a scramble for enough votes to avoid a Republican filibuster.
The measure, which would outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, won a Senate committee vote in July, and Reid has been waiting for a favorable opportunity to bring it to the floor.
It is already illegal at the federal level for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age, or disability, and many LGBT rights advocates see ENDA as the logical next step.
ALL DEMOCRATS IN FAVOR
A previous version of the bill stalled in the House in 2009, even though Democrats held a majority there and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was a strong supporter of the measure.
We tried, it failed in the House of Representatives before, Reid said on the Senate floor Monday. But were going to take it up here again.
Reid has supported ENDA ever since the first Senate version was introduced in 1997, and he quickly lined up all his Democrats behind the measure. The last three holdouts - Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) - fell into line by October 30.
Newly elected Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has not yet been sworn in, but he is a longtime ally of the LGBT community and is certain to be a Yes vote.
Washingtons two senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, are strong supporters of the bill.
Despite the incredible gains weve made toward full equality for LGBT Americans, many businesses throughout the United States can still legally discriminate against an employee or an applicant simply because of who they love or how they identify themselves, Murray told SGN.
That is simply wrong and it has to change. Thankfully, the Senate is now on the cusp of making history. Im proud our state is a leader in providing employment protections for LGBT Americans, and I am hopeful my colleagues will join me in taking this important step toward extending these protections to every LGBT American.
Senator Cantwell believes that discrimination of any kind is unacceptable in any American workplace, Cantwell spokesperson Jared Leopold said.
She first co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as a House member in 1994 and has continued that support since entering the Senate in 2001. She is encouraged that the Senate is moving forward on this important bill. ENDA would ensure that where Americans work and how they are evaluated is based on skills and qualifications, not on sexual orientation.
GETTING TO 60
Another Northwest Democrat, Oregons Jeff Merkley, is the bills prime sponsor.
I thank Majority Leader Reid for committing to bring ENDA to the floor this work period, Merkley said in a statement. Americans understand that its time to make sure our LGBT friends and family are treated fairly and have the same opportunities. Now it's time for our laws to catch up. People should be judged at work on their ability to do the job, period.
Republicans Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) are co-sponsors of the bill, and their Republican colleagues Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted for the bill in committee and are considered likely to vote for final passage.
That makes 59 Senators who will probably vote to pass ENDA, but Senate rules require 60 votes even to bring a bill to the floor for debate. Reid said on October 30 that he believes he already has them.
Ive talked with Democrats and Republicans, and I think weve got 60 now, he told reporters after the last Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said he was a Yes.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), whose son is Gay and who has endorsed marriage equality, is thought to be the probable 60th vote.
He told reporters on October 29 that he is inclined to back the measure, but his staff later tried to walk back his comment, saying Portman agrees with the underlying principle but wants stronger exemptions for religious institutions.
Sen. John McCain, once thought to be a possible Yes vote, expressed deep reservations about the bill on October 29.
When asked what lingering concerns he had about backing ENDA, McCain replied, Whether it imposes quotas, whether it has reverse discrimination, whether it has the kinds of provisions that really preserve equal rights for all citizens, or, like, for example, busing. Busing was done in the name of equality. Busing was a failure. Quotas were a failure. A lot of people thought they were solutions. They weren't. They bred problems.
McCains wife, Cindy, has signed a petition asking him to vote for ENDA, however.
McCains Arizona colleague Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voted for the 2007 version of ENDA when he was a House member, but said the current version includes new provisions that will increase the potential for litigation and compliance costs, especially for small businesses. For that reason, I oppose the Senate bill.
Sens. Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Dean Heller (R-NV) are also considered possible Yes votes, but as of October 31, their staffs said the Senators are still studying the legislation.
HOUSE VOTE UNLIKELY
If and when ENDA passes the Senate, it still faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled House. Speaker John Boehner would have to agree to schedule committee hearings and then bring the measure to the floor for debate and a vote. This is now considered highly unlikely.
Asked about ENDAs prospects in the House, Reid declined to speculate. I only run the Senate, I dont run the House, he said.
Seattle-area Rep. Adam Smith, a co-sponsor of the House version of ENDA, praised Reid for bringing the bill up for a vote in the Senate and said he hoped Boehner would do so as well.
I thank Senator Reid for bringing this critical legislation up for a vote in the Senate, Smith told SGN.
There is no room for discrimination in the workplace. It is wrong that a person can be fired or denied a job opportunity simply because they are, or are perceived to be, a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender individual. The American public, several organizations, and many members of Congress have widely embraced and endorsed ENDA's goal of nondiscrimination.
Despite having bipartisan support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Speaker Boehner has yet to bring ENDA up for a vote over his three years of leadership, and it seems unlikely that he will. I hope House leadership allows for a vote on an all-inclusive ENDA that provides equality for all LGBT people. Ill continue to work with my colleagues and my constituents in Washington state to push for LGBT equality in the workplace.
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