March 29, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Trans bill hits snag in Md. Senate

Less than a week after being approved in the Maryland House of Delegates by a vote of 86-52, a transgender non-discrimination bill is facing an unexpected roadblock in the State Senate.

In a development that has baffled many supporters of the bill, Senate President Thomas Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) bypassed normal procedures by sending the bill to the Senate Rules Committee, which is known as a “graveyard” for controversial legislation.

“This is not a good sign,” said transgender activist Dana Beyer, who is closely following the bill.

The Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act calls for banning discrimination against transgender Marylanders in areas of employment, housing, and credit.

Its approval in the House of Delegates by such a large margin gave advocates hope that the legislation would clear the Senate before April 11, when the Maryland Legislature adjourns for the year.

Beyer and officials with Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT group leading the lobbying effort for the bill, have said they believe they have the votes to pass the bill if it reaches the Senate floor.

But they have long expressed concern over getting the bill out of committee. The gender identity measure has died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee for the past four years. This year, following its strong showing in the House, supporters and others familiar with the Senate were hopeful that the Judicial Proceedings Committee would approve the measure.

Miller’s decision to send the bill to the Rules Committee rather than directly to Judicial Proceedings is being viewed as an ominous sign that Miller or Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County) are seeking to kill the bill this year by preventing it from reaching the Senate floor.

Neither Miller nor a spokesperson for his office returned a call seeking comment as of late Tuesday.

Frosh denied reports by some Annapolis insiders that he asked Miller to divert the bill from his committee because he didn’t want to deal with it.

“I don’t make bill assignments, so it’s not me,” he told the Blade. “The president makes those determinations, and it’s not up to a committee chairman. When he sends me the bill, I’ve got it. But until he does, I don’t.”

Should it reach his committee, Frosh said he isn’t certain whether the bill has enough votes to clear the panel.

“I have four new members on the committee, none of whom has ever heard the issue before,” he said. “I have no idea where they are on the bill.”

In yet another development likely to trouble the bill’s supporters, Frosh said his office was “inundated” on Monday by calls from transgender activists opposed to the bill because it has been stripped of a provision banning discrimination against transgender persons in the area of public accommodations.

The bill’s lead sponsor in the House of Delegates, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties), said she reluctantly removed the public accommodations provision as the only way to ensure approval of the bill this year in the House.

“They are livid that that was taken out and oppose the bill,” Frosh said of Trans Maryland members. “So there’s a division within the transgender community apparently about whether or not it’s a good idea. I have no idea how that will affect the four people who have never heard the bill, let alone the other folks on the committee.”

Most transgender activists, including officials with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s transgender rights project, are supporting the bill with the objective of adding the public accommodations provision next year.

Frosh, who also serves as vice chair of the Rules Committee, said the chair of that panel, Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), along with Senate President Miller, who is a member of the committee, would make the decision on whether to quickly send the bill to Judicial Proceedings.

With less than two weeks before the legislature’s adjournment for the year, the Rules Committee would have to debate and vote on whether to release the bill to the Judicial Proceedings Committee this week in order to allow time for Judicial Proceedings to hold a hearing on the bill before voting to send it to the Senate floor.

Seven members of the 11-member Rules Committee voted against the same-sex marriage bill that the Senate passed in February. Committee Chair Klausmeier and Frosh voted for the marriage measure, but four other Democrats on the committee voted against it, including Miller.

Although the marriage bill may not be a precise predictor of how senators will vote on the transgender bill, some Annapolis observers say at least some of the conservative Democrats in the Senate who oppose marriage equality might also be opposed to a transgender bill.

“This is another hurdle to advancing job and housing protections in Maryland this year,” said Equality Maryland’s executive director, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, in commenting on Miller’s decision to send the transgender bill to the Rules Committee.

“We are already working with allies to keep this important bill moving,” she said. “It is challenging, but this bill literally would save lives and is worth fight for.”

In a statement, Equality Maryland said it will “keep working until the final hours of the session” to secure passage of the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act.

Although the bill has died in Frosh’s Judicial Proceedings committee for the past four years, he told the Blade Tuesday he would vote for it if it reaches his committee. He said he’s being unfairly blamed for derailing the bill.

“I’ve gotten calls saying I’m responsible for killing it, I’m responsible for sending it to Rules,” he said. “I’ve gotten calls saying make sure the bill dies and you got to do something to make sure it passes. I wish I had as much power as people ascribe to me.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

7 Comments
  • You can bet that the dead hands of NOM, the FRC and other hate groups are somehow behind this problem. Dont know where the catholic church is on the issue but to see what they are in general, go to http://www.nobeleifs.com and http://www.catholicarrogance.org

  • ” I wish I had as much power as people ascribe to me.”

    So what are you: a senator or a paramecium?

  • That alleged trans rights bill that EQ MD is pimping deserves to die. Try again in 2012 with a full trans civil rights bill just like you GL people have in your ‘discrimination free zone’ .

    If you GL peeps had done the morally correct thing and not cut us out of the full civil rights bill you passed for the Maryland GL community in 2001, you wouldn’t be dealing with this issue now.

    If incremental progress is unacceptable for you GL peeps on the marriage issue, incremental progress on trans rights issues is unacceptable to us as well.

    • EqualityAdvocate

      Maryland has done incremental work on marriage. If you have been following the legislature at all they passed a bunch of small bills way before the marriage bill. And clearly the GLBs in Maryland are not ALL powerful since they are still waiting for marriage. Seems like a tough, nasty year for the entire community there. Too bad it seems like we are all attacking each other and making it worse.

  • “In yet another development likely to trouble the bill’s supporters, Frosh said his office was “inundated” on Monday by calls from transgender activists opposed to the bill because it has been stripped of a provision banning discrimination against transgender persons in the area of public accommodations.”

    Senator Frosh’s legislative aid, David Brewster, was extremely supportive in fielding this overwhelming number of calls and should be commended for his professionalism.

    TransMaryland feels it is entirely unfair to place the blame on Senator Frosh for the assignment of this bill. Senator President Mike Miller, in an interview with the Baltimore Sun stated, “When we are through with the budget we’ll have time to deal with other issues that might have a chance of passage,” he said after the morning session. “At this point in time I’d say the chances of passage of that bill are next to none.”

    Additionally from the same Baltimore Sun report :

    Miller noted that his chamber “spent a lot of time” on “important social issues” earlier in the session that died in the House of Delegates. The Senate passed a landmark bill legalizing same-sex marriage, only to see their efforts wilt when votes could not be secured for House passage.

    It is clear Senate President Miller wishes to secure a workable budget for the State of Maryland and if the opportunity arises, may revisit HB235.

    We continue to urge lawmakers to support Senator’s Rich Madaleno’s public statement on HB235:

    “I have been the lead sponsor or lead cosponsor of the Gender Identity Antidiscrimination Act for the past four years. In advance of the 2011 Session, I had a bill drafted that is identical to the bill I had introduced previously. This draft prohibited discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. However, our advocacy coalition asked me to not introduce the bill, preferring a strategy of pursuing a House bill alone. This approach has not diminished my commitment to enacting these much needed protections, and I urge the House of Delegates to pass HB 235, with an amendment that prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals regarding public accommodations.

    Providing transgender individuals with basic protections against discrimination is long overdue. Although much of the media attention this legislative session has centered on marriage equality, we cannot let that debate overshadow efforts to enact these essential protections. Protection against discrimination, including gender identity discrimination, is a basic human right. Our state laws must reflect the values of equality and equal opportunity – values that are central to who we are as Americans.

    Now is the time for Maryland to join thirteen other states, Washington, D.C., Montgomery County, and Baltimore City in protecting individuals from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. In 2007, Governor O’Malley signed an executive order adding protections against discrimination to our state personnel policies. We now must pass a statewide law that protects transgender individuals from discrimination when seeking employment, housing, and public accommodations.”

    We support nothing less.

  • It’s payback – Miller expended political capital to put Gay marriage through the Senate, then the House let him down. So now he’s blocking a Trans-friendly bill to punish the Gays and the House for their treachery. The fact that many gays want to continue to be able to discriminate against trans people, and the others aren’t affected, is lost on him. The bill is perceived to be gay-friendly, and perception is everything.

  • I don’t get the notion that millions of gay people should wait for thousands of trans people to get rights. Deny millions rights because our society is assinine and got on board with gays quicker than trans – that is crazy.

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