May 6, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
National news in brief

Casey to introduce LGBT anti-bullying bill

PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) has announced plans to introduce federal anti-bullying legislation “in the next couple of days” that would be inclusive of protecting LGBT students throughout the country.

During a May 1 speech at the annual Equality Forum, Casey said the bill, which will be known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act, is necessary because data shows that bullying happens “most frequently to children who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

“We must enact legislation to do a better job of protecting children, especially those children who are being bullied every day because they’re gay or lesbian,” he said.

Casey said the bill would call on schools to develop policies to prohibit bullying and harassment and create a system to obtain and report data on the issue. Companion legislation to what Casey’s proposing exists in the House. The sponsor of the House version, which has 108 co-sponsors, is Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.).

After the speech, Casey told the Blade his legislation would be different from the Student Non-Discrimination Act that Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is poised to introduce in the Senate.

Casey said it’s important for the federal government to make clear that it’s going to pay more attention to the issue of bullying.

“As you know, it’s been a significant issue as it relates to gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender children for a long time — or children who happen to have parents who are gay or lesbian,” he said.

Casey said the legislation wouldn’t necessarily have language specifically relating to sexual orientation or gender identity but would have more of a “broader directive” toward all students.

Although he said it’s possible for anti-bullying legislation to pass this year, Casey said he’s “learned to be more realistic about how long bills can take.”

Hawaii passes civil unions bill

HONOLULU — In an unexpected development, Hawaii’s House of Representatives last week voted 31-20 to pass a civil unions bill providing the same rights and benefits of marriage to the state’s same-sex couples.

The vote came April 30 during the final hours of the legislative body’s session and after many political observers expected supporters to postpone a vote because they lacked sufficient support to override any veto by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

Lingle has not said whether she will sign or veto the bill. Opponents, led by the state Catholic Archdiocese, are demanding that Lingle veto the measure. Supporters need 34 votes to override a veto, three more than the number who voted for the measure on Thursday.

“The legislature’s passage of a civil union bill marks a major step forward in Hawaii’s journey toward fairness and equality, but falls short of the full security and equality protection that come only with the freedom to marry,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry.

Hawaii’s state Senate passed the bill earlier this year.

Wolfson played a role in efforts to push for same-sex marriage in Hawaii during the early 1990s, when same-sex couples filed a lawsuit asserting the state’s Constitution required recognition of same-sex marriage. In a highly controversial decision, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of the couple’s suit, setting in motion a process where Hawaii could have become the nation’s first state to legalize gay marriage.

But opponents fought back, pushing through a ballot measure approved by the voters that amended the state’s Constitution in 1998 to ban gay marriage. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in 1993 has been credited with unleashing a nationwide backlash against same-sex marriage that led to ballot measures banning gay marriage in states across the country.

Wolfson and other LGBT activists have expressed hope that that backlash is subsiding, and that more states will soon approve same-sex marriage laws similar to those in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

Franken to introduce student non-discrimination bill

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is poised to introduce a bill that would bar discrimination against LGBT students in schools throughout the country, according to his office.

“We are hopeful that we can introduce our companion anti-bullying legislation soon,” Jess McIntosh, a Franken spokesperson, told the Blade last week.

In the House, the legislation is known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker, introduced the measure in January. Polis said the legislation would give schools across the country tools to fight “everything from exclusion from prom, to banning clubs, to lack of actions addressing bullying situations.”

McIntosh said she couldn’t say when Franken would introduce the bill; she also couldn’t confirm whether the language in his bill would match the House version.

Daryl Presgraves, spokesperson for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which has been advocating for the bill, praised Franken for furthering the effort.

“Obviously, we’re very grateful to Sen. Franken for realizing that the Student Non-Discrimination Act is an important piece of legislation that will help make schools safer for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” Presgraves said.

Immigration reform could include UAFA: report

WASHINGTON — A recently published outline of principles Senate Democrats are seeking as part of upcoming comprehensive immigration reform calls for language that would address inequities faced by same-sex bi-national couples.

The 26-page draft proposal, posted online April 29 by Politico, devotes one line to expressing a desire for language to allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the U.S. as part of the final immigration reform bill.

“It will eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status,” says the draft.

The proposed language is similar to standalone legislation pending in Congress known as the Uniting American Families Act. The bill would change immigration law to assist an estimated 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples living in the United States.

The draft proposal’s authors are Senate Democrats leading the effort in the chamber for immigration reform: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, called the proposal “a very significant development” toward including UAFA in comprehensive immigration reform.

“It is a solid indication that lawmakers — in crafting their priorities for the bill — saw this as being one of those priorities,” he said.

Baldwin says OPM has pay-for info on DP bill

WASHINGTON — The only out lesbian in Congress told reporters last week that the administration has sent her information on finding funds to pay for domestic partner benefits legislation for federal workers.

Asked by the Blade on April 28 whether the U.S. Office of Personnel Management had yet provided the data as requested by lawmakers, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) replied, “To me.”

The legislation, known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, would make available to the same-sex partners of federal workers the same benefits available to the spouses of straight workers, including health and pension benefits.

“We’ll be able to pay for it,” said Baldwin, the bill’s sponsor. “I’m confident that we will be able to offset it so that it will meet statutory pay-go requirements.”

House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the legislation reported out the bill late last year. But supporters have said they wouldn’t move the bill to the floor unless OPM provided information on how to pay for the legislation’s cost — an estimated $63 million each year — within the agency’s existing budget.

Baldwin said for strategic reasons, she didn’t want to offer more information publicly on how OPM found the needed funds to pay for the legislation.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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