A bill that would ban employment and housing discrimination against transgender people in Maryland cleared a second crucial hurdle Friday when a committee of the state’s House of Delegates approved the bill by a vote of 15-8.
The bill now goes to the full House of Delegates, where it must be approved by midnight on Monday to make it eligible to be sent to the State Senate for final approval.
“The great news is we thought the vote would be 14-9 since we had 14 commitments,” said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT group leading efforts on behalf of the bill. “So we actually picked up another supporter.”
The 23-member Committee on Health and Government Operations voted mostly along party lines in approving the bill. Fourteen of the committee’s 15 Democrats voted for the measure. Seven of the eight Republicans on the committee voted no. The sole Republican voting for it was Del. Robert Costa of Anne Arundel County. The lone Democrat voting “no” was John Donaghoue of Washington County.
Among those voting “yes” were gay Dels. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) and Peter Murphy (D-Charles County).
The committee’s action represents the first time a transgender rights bill in Maryland has been reported out of committee for a vote in the state’s House or Senate.
“It looks good on the floor [of the full House],” Meneses-Sheets said. “We have a strong whip count. We need to keep up the work every second until the vote is taken.”
With dozens of bills competing for a vote as the House scrambles to complete its business by the end of the day Monday, activists supporting the transgender rights measure, the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, say the next key hurdle was to make sure lawmakers bring it up for a vote.
The bill calls for amending the state’s anti-discrimination laws by adding protection on the basis of gender identity to the area of employment, housing, and credit.
In a statement released on Friday, Equality Maryland said it considers “a few non-substantive amendments” to the bill approved by a subcommittee earlier this week to be “relatively inconsequential.”
The statement said one of the amendments modified the bill’s definition of gender identity.
“This definition will provide protection both for a person’s gender identity as well as the way in which they express their gender in terms of presentation,” the statement says. “Equality Maryland worked with the subcommittee and committee to ensure that both areas would be covered under the bill’s definition.”
According to Meneses-Sheets, supporters of the bill in the State Senate, including gay Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) were committed to take immediate steps to shepherd the bill through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the Senate floor if it clears a vote by the House this weekend.
Some transgender activists, including members of the group Trans Maryland, oppose the bill on grounds that it doesn’t include protection in the category of public accommodations. The bill’s author and lead sponsor in the House, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties), said she removed a public accommodations provision after determining it was the only way to obtain enough votes to pass the measure this year.