A transgender non-discrimination bill in Maryland cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when the Rules Committee of the State Senate voted to allow it to advance through the normal legislative process rather than die in committee.
The action by the Rules panel came after LGBT advocates and their allies waged an aggressive one-week lobbying campaign to persuade Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to reverse what the bill’s supporters said was his decision to kill the measure in committee.
Nearly all knowledgeable observers of the Maryland Legislature believe Miller controls which bills go to and are approved by the Rules Committee, which has been dubbed the “graveyard” for bills unpopular with the Senate leadership. The committee is comprised of the chairs of the Senate’s standing committees, all of whom are appointed by Miller.
“With today’s vote, the Senate Rules Committee stood up for fairness,” said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, the LGBT group heading efforts to pass the bill. “With the Rules Committee vote, we’re one step closer in passing vital protections for Maryland’s transgender community.”
The state’s House of Delegates approved the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act on March 25 by a vote of 86-52. Equality Maryland and other groups lobbying for the bill believe they have the votes to pass the measure in the Senate if the bill reaches that body before the legislature adjourns on April 11.
The bill calls for banning discrimination against transgender Marylanders in the areas of employment, housing and credit.
According to sources familiar with the bill, it was expected to go before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday for a hearing limited to the bill’s sponsors. The Judicial Proceedings Committee was expected to vote on the bill on Friday.
If approved by the committee, the bill was expected to come up for debate and vote on the Senate floor on Saturday, two days before the legislature’s scheduled adjournment for the year.
“We are now in the realm of the very serious possibility of passing this,” said Dana Beyer, a Montgomery County transgender activist and candidate last year for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates.
“There’s an important lesson here,” she said. You can be a marginalized community, but if you firmly and politely lobby hard, you can get your message across. Now it’s our job to continue the lobbying with the Judicial Proceedings Committee and the full Senate.”
Beyer was referring to the coordinated lobbying campaign organized by Equality Maryland that involved arranging for members and supporters to barrage Miller and other key members of the State Senate with phone calls and e-mails urging that the bill be released from the Rules Committee. Among those said to have called Miller to request that he release the bill from the Rules Committee was U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the No. 2 Democratic leader in the House.
“We are hopeful that after thousands of e-mails and hundreds of phone calls that HB 235 [the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act] will continue to advance, but we will not rest until the final minutes of this legislative session,” Meneses-Sheets said in a statement released Tuesday.
In a March 31 letter, the seven-member LGBT Caucus of the House of Delegates also sent Miller a letter urging him to release the gender identity bill from the Rules Committee.
“We believe this bill is absolutely necessary for the civil protections of a subset of Marylanders who are most vulnerable to discrimination and prejudices, the caucus members said. “We are simply asking for full consideration of this bill on behalf of those Marylanders.”
Those signing the letter were Dels. Maggie McIntosh, Anne Kaiser, Heather Mizeur, Peter Murphy, Luke Clippinger, Bonnie Cullison and Mary Washington. All seven are Democrats.
The sole openly gay member of the State Senate, Richard Madaleno, Democrat from Montgomery County, said he has also urged Miller to release the bill from the Rules Committee.