Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) announced on Wednesday that he’s prepared to unveil the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for the 112th Congress but is still in the process of obtaining additional co-sponsors before formally introducing the bill.
During a news conference on Capitol Hill, Frank said the upcoming introduction of ENDA would help educate lawmakers and the public about the bill as he continued to express skepticism that it would advance with Republicans in control of the House.
“This is a chance to continue — not begin, but continue — a lobbying effort that I am convinced will be successful, frankly, next time the Democrats take back the House of Representatives,” Frank said.
As it was introduced in the 111th Congress, ENDA would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in most situations in the public and private workforce. According to Frank’s office, job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is legal in 29 states and legal in 38 states on the basis of gender identity.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a planned original co-sponsor of ENDA, called for continued lobbying and education on ENDA for at least two years under GOP control to ensure its passage in later years.
“I think it’s very important we introduce this legislation, that we begin the process anew, that we don’t have a big gap of activity on behalf on ending this discrimination,” Miller said.
Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education & Workforce Committee, said the process should begin again so that “we no longer continue to live in a country where depending on where you live, your employers can legally fire, refuse to hire, demote or pass over you for promotion based upon your sexual orientation or gender [identity].”
A number of LGBT groups — ranging from the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Lesbian Rights —issued statements praising Frank for introducing ENDA on Wednesday even though he had yet to formally introduce the legislation.
Harry Gural, a Frank spokesperson, confirmed that ENDA had yet to be introduced on Wednesday and said his boss wants more support before going forward.
“It was announced but not formally introduced — the bill has not been ‘dropped,’” Gural said. “We have the bill text exactly as it will be [introduced] — which is exactly the same text as last year. But before it is formally introduced, we are still collecting cosponsors.”
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said HRC was told ENDA would be introduced on Wednesday, but is behind Frank’s decision to hold off on introduction until additional support is found.
“If the congressman believes that the legislation would be best served by collecting more co-sponsors, then we would completely support that,” Sainz said. “Their plan may have been to introduce it today, but the congressman may have made a very good decision to wait until there are co-sponsors that have signed on, and I think that if that’s his judgement, then we would concur with his judgment.”
Both Frank and Miller during the news conference noted that the transgender protections in ENDA contribute to the difficulty in passing the legislation. Miller said “great strides” were made on ENDA in the 111th Congress, but added that more education is needed on the gender identity language.
“We went round and round on the issue of transgender and discussing it with members of Congress,” Miller said. “I just think it’s very important that the transgender community just insist — as the school lunch community does, or the Head Start community, or the community development block grant community, or the [National Rifle Association] or whatever it is — insist upon sitting down with members of Congress and getting them to understand and recognize what is happening.”
With Republicans in control of the House, a number of LGBT advocates have been calling on President Obama to issue an executive order barring the federal government from contracting with companies that don’t have policies barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Earlier this week, gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) endorsed such a directive from the president (see related story).
Asked by the Washington Blade whether he would also support such an order, Frank said he would support the directive in principle, but would need to examine the move further.
“I have to look at the legality of that,” Frank said. “I would be in favor of it, but there are limits to what you can do by executive order and we don’t want to overreach, but I support it in principle and I’ll look at it.”
Frank also dismissed the idea that a discharge petition could move ENDA forward if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refuses to hold a vote on the legislation in the 112th Congress. A discharge petition requires the signature of a majority of House members — 218 names — to advance legislation.
“I don’t think there are 30 Republicans that would sign a discharge petition for a bill that includes transgender,” Frank said. “If there were, frankly, we could have passed this bill in the [111th] Congress. … There are not 218 members at this point ready to support it. We have an overwhelmingly number of Democrats, but not all, and a number of Republicans.”
Frank said a number of House members in principle never sign a discharge petition and predicted ENDA would lose about 15 or 20 supporters if an attempt were made to pass the legislation through that route.
“I think it’s a mistake to hold that out as a possibility because I don’t want people wasting their effort on urging people who are already ready to vote for this to do something else, which isn’t going to advance it one iota,” Frank added.
A number of LGBT advocates are frustrated that ENDA didn’t even see a House committee vote — let alone a vote on the House or Senate floor — during the 111th Congress when Democrats had control of both chambers of Congress.
Frank cited a “traffic jam” in the LGBT legislative agenda with the passage of hate crimes protections legislation and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as a reason why ENDA didn’t move in the 111th Congress.
“In lobbying of members, it takes coordination of the legislative schedule — and, frankly, that’s the kind of lack of understanding of the legislative process that’s an obstacle to our getting things done,” Frank said. “The fact is that we have to work at these things, and they are not easy to do.”
Frank added that repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” wasn’t a “slam dunk” in the 111th Congress and said “you can go to members only so many times on so many issues.”
“I work hard to get my colleagues to be supportive,” Frank said. “If the notion is that whatever people do, they only criticism for what they don’t do takes hold, then we won’t get much done.”
Frank said there was “no chance” for both repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and passage of ENDA last year in both chambers of Congress, although he admitted ENDA could have seen progress in the House.
“We might have been able to get them both done in the House, but there was no way we could get them both done in the Senate — to get 60 votes for the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and a transgender-inclusive ENDA, and that’s what dictated what we finally did,” Frank said.