WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of nine senators is backing the idea of having the Senate panel with jurisdiction over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act advance the legislation to the floor by a committee vote.
The group is asking for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, to hold a markup on ENDA in the wake of the panel’s hearing on the legislation last week and the senator’s remarks to the Washington Blade immediately afterward that he wanted “to poll the committee” about moving the bill forward.
In the week after the hearing, the Washington Blade solicited statements from the offices of all 22 members of the Senate panel on whether they want to see the committee move the legislation to the Senate floor.
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Those who responded affirmatively were spokespersons for Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ENDA’s lead sponsor, as well as Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the only Republican on the panel who responded to the Blade’s inquiry.
All 12 Democrats on the panel — as well as Kirk, an original co-sponsor of the bill — are among the 41 total co-sponsors of ENDA, so the bill should have no trouble moving out of committee. The legislation would bar employers in most situations in the public and private workforce from discriminating against workers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sanders’ office accompanied his call for a committee vote on ENDA with a statement saying the time is now to pass ENDA to end workforce discrimination against LGBT people.
“As I’ve said many times before, discrimination of any kind is not what America is supposed to be about,” Sanders said. “Yet only 16 states, including my own state of Vermont, and D.C. currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I will fully support Sen. Merkley and Chairman Harkin in their efforts to move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act out of committee, because no Americans should have to live with the fear of losing their jobs simply because of who they are.”
The support that Murray’s office conveyed to the Blade echoes the sentiment she expressed about moving the legislation forward during the committee hearing last week. Murray was explicit in calling for a markup, saying she wants to see ENDA pass out of committee “expeditiously.” In response, Harkin said, “I hope so.”
But speaking to the Washington Blade after the hearing, Harkin was non-committal about holding a markup, saying he wants to speak with panel members before moving forward.
“I’m going to poll my committee and see,” Harkin said. “Right now, I’m kind of up to here in getting [Food & Drug Administration] bill through, as you know. We got it through the Senate; we’ve got to work with the House on that trying to get that put to bed, and then I’m going to poll the committee and see what we want to do.”
The Senate HELP Committee didn’t respond to a request for comment on the possibility of holding a markup on ENDA. It’s unclear whether the seven senators who expressed support for a markup to the Blade’s solicitation is enough support for Harkin to schedule a markup.