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LGBT bills unlikely to advance in Senate before Election Day

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Saturday, July 14, 2012
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With a few months remaining in the 112th Congress — and a few weeks until lawmakers adjourn for August recess — advocates say the chances for advancing any pro-LGBT legislation even in the Democratic-controlled Senate are slim — at least before Election Day.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, expressed the sentiment that progress on pro-LGBT bills is unlikely in Congress anytime soon.

“Obviously the calendar is tight with only seven legislative weeks between now and the election,” Cole-Schwartz said. “Further, as summer rolls on, it begins to get harder and harder to get much done on Capitol Hill.”

Michael Key, Washington Blade

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

Still, Cole-Schwartz said HRC will look to see what could be accomplished in the lame duck session and push to include LGBT provisions in any major tax bill or other omnibus spending package that comes to the floor.

Few had expected pro-LGBT legislation to move through the House while Republicans remain in control of the chamber, although some progress was made on bills in the Senate — including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, and the Respect for Marriage Act — leading to hopes that more progress could be made in at least one chamber of Congress.

On ENDA, which would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee held a historic hearing last month featuring the first-ever testimony from an openly transgender person before the Senate. Earlier in the Congress, the DPBO bill, which would extend health and pension benefits to partners of federal workers, and the RMA, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, were reported out of their respective committees of jurisdiction.

But even these bills may not advance. A Senate Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would schedule time for votes on these bills before Election Day, but left the door open for the possibility of them being tacked on to larger legislation coming to the floor.

“There is very little chance that any of these bills will be voted on in the Senate — as freestanding legislation – before the end of 2012,” the aide said. “However, it’s possible that one of the first three listed could be pushed by their sponsors as an amendment to another bill.”

A spokesperson for Reid’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether floor time would be scheduled for any pending pro-LGBT legislation for the remainder of this Congress.

Progress on one measure, the reauthorization of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, which was intended as a vehicle for pro-LGBT legislation, has apparently reached an impasse. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimination Act, and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), had pledged to offer their anti-bullying bills as amendments to ESEA reauthorization when it came to the floor.

Cole-Schwartz said ESEA reauthorization “has stalled and is not expected to move further this year,” but advocates are looking for other options on the anti-bullying bills.

“While we had hoped it to be a vehicle for LGBT-inclusive schools legislation, we are working with allies to identify other options,” Cole-Schwartz said.

Shawn Gaylord, director of public policy for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, echoed the sentiment that negotiations on ESEA reauthorization have stalled and “the general consensus in the education community is that any movement within this Congress is unlikely.”

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