The chief sponsor of a transgender non-discrimination bill in the Maryland Legislature took the unusual step of publicly criticizing the president of the State Senate on Wednesday, saying he was being disrespectful to her and those who would benefit from the bill by seeking to kill it in committee.
Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s & Anne Arundel Counties) said she was dismayed that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s & Calvert Counties) diverted the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act to the Senate Rules Committee, where it will likely die without a vote or hearing.
“Mike Miller wants it dead, it’s that simple,” Pena-Melnyk told the Blade in an interview Wednesday. “Out of 94 bills that the House passed and sent to the Senate in a timely fashion, this was the only bill that went to the Rules Committee — the only bill,” she said.
The Rules Committee has long been viewed as a “graveyard” for bills in the State Senate that are unpopular with the Senate leadership, especially the president, during the closing days of the legislative session.
Neither Miller nor a spokesperson for his office immediately returned calls from the Blade seeking comment.
The Maryland Legislature adjourns for the year on April 11. Bills like the gender identity measure that are sent to the Rules Committee at such a late date are deemed “dead on arrival” unless Miller were to have a change of heart and agree to send it to a standing committee for a required hearing and vote.
Pena-Melnyk and LGBT supporters of the gender identity bill expected Miller to follow normal Senate procedures for bills passed by the House of Delegates by sending it to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The bill has died in that committee for the past four years, but supporters were hopeful it would clear the panel this year.
They were optimistic because the House of Delegates passed the bill by a vote of 86-52 on March 25, representing the first time a transgender non-discrimination measure has passed in either body of the Maryland Legislature.
The bill calls for prohibiting discrimination against transgender Marylanders in the area of employment, housing, and credit.
Pena-Melnyk said she sought to meet with Miller on Tuesday with the intent of urging him to release the bill from the Rules Committee and to send it to the Judicial Proceedings panel.
“I waited an entire hour for him, a whole hour in his office, and he refused to see me,” she said.
She called Miller’s action disrespectful to her and to the transgender community and their allies who have worked hard to secure passage of the bill for more than four years.
“What message does that send? How does that speak of us that we can treat people like that in the State of Maryland?” she said. “It’s so disrespectful.”
Miller and Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, have denied reports from some Annapolis insiders that Frosh initiated the effort to derail the bill by asking Miller to divert it to the Rules Committee rather than sending it to Frosh’s committee.
One source familiar with the legislature said Miller appeared to confirm that Frosh asked him to send the bill to the Rules panel when he told Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) during a caucus meeting of Senate Democrats on Tuesday that he acted on Frosh’s suggestion.
Madaleno, who is gay and is a lead supporter of the gender identity bill, told the Blade Wednesday that Miller did, indeed, tell him at the caucus meeting that Frosh favored sending the bill to the Rules Committee. But Madaleno said Miller approached him privately about 10 minutes later to say he misspoke at the caucus meeting and that Frosh did not ask him to divert the bill to the Rules panel.
“He said it was his decision,” said Madaleno.
According to Madaleno, Miller’s explanation to him on why he diverted the gender identity bill was similar to Miller’s explanation to the Baltimore Sun on Tuesday.
The Sun reported that Miller expressed concern that the Senate had attempted to advance the gender identity bill several times in the past four years and it has died due to lack of support in that chamber.
“There are not the votes to move it in committee,” he told the Sun, referring to the Judicial Proceedings Committee. “At this point in time I’d say the chances of passage of that bill are next to none,” the Sun quoted him as saying.
Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of the statewide LGBT group Equality Maryland, issued an alert to the group’s supporters and allies Wednesday urging them to make phone calls and send e-mail messages to their senators demanding that the gender identity bill be released from the Rules Committee. She said the group remains hopeful that the bill has a chance of passing if it reaches the Senate floor for a vote.
Equality Maryland joined LGBT activists last week in hailing the bill’s passage in the House of Delegates by a wide margin.
But the group Trans Maryland, which is opposing the bill because a public accommodations clause was stripped from the legislation this year, has sent out its own alert asking members and allies to contact the Rules Committee to urge that the bill be killed unless the public accommodations provision is restored.
Pena-Melnyk said she removed the public accommodations provision because doing so was the only way the bill could clear a House of Delegates Committee and reach the House floor. She said the bill could never pass this year, even in the Senate, if the public accommodations provision is added to the bill.