In a development that stunned LGBT advocates, the Maryland State Senate voted 27-20 on Monday to recommit the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act to committee, effectively killing the bill for the year.
The bill, which calls for banning discrimination against transgender people in the areas of employment, housing and credit, including bank loans, had been approved last month in the state’s House of Delegates by a vote of 86 to 52.
Initial head counts of senators led supporters to believe they had the votes to pass the measure in the Senate. But activists working with the statewide LGBT group Equality Maryland said that, to their great disappointment, a number of Democrats backed off from earlier commitments to support the bill.
Of the 27 senators voting to send the bill back to committee, 16 were Democrats and 11 were Republicans. Democrats hold a majority in the Senate by a 35 to 12 margin.
Of the 20 voting against the motion to send the bill to committee to kill it for the year, 19 were Democrats. Just one Republican, LGBT rights supporter Allan Kittleman, voted no on the motion to send the bill back to committee.
“Of the ones that voted to recommit, there were at least seven that we felt we had that had committed to us that they were going to support this and then they back out,” said Dana Beyer, a Montgomery County transgender activist and former House of Delegates candidate who worked closely with Equality Maryland to lobby for the bill.
“It’s always a guess,” said Beyer, when asked why supporters turned against the bill. “It’s shocking because we didn’t expect this. There are a thousand ways to kill a bill. This is one way to do it, and I have to lay it at the hands of the Senate leadership.”
Among those voting to send the measure back to committee was Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties).
Miller became the target of an aggressive lobbying campaign by Equality Maryland and an informal coalition of transgender activists after he diverted the bill to the Senate Rules Committee following its approval by the House of Delegates. With the Rules Committee viewed as the graveyard for bills out of favor by the Senate leadership, activists backing the bill viewed Miller’s decision to single out the trans bill for diversion to the Rules Committee while clearing dozens of other bills for the normal route to standing committees was viewed as a clear attempt to kill the bill.
But Miller backed down amid a barrage of e-mails and phone calls to his office and to the office of other senators demanding that the bill be released to the Judicial Proceedings Committee for a vote. After a 90-minute debate, the Judicial Proceedings panel voted to approve the bill on Saturday and sent it to the Senate floor, leading supporters to believe they had a fighting chance to see it through a full Senate vote.
Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Equality Maryland’s executive director, said she was especially disappointed that several senators that voted to recommit the bill to committee had assured the group of their support for the measure.
“I wish I had a why,” she said when asked why supporters turned against the bill. “This means that we really need to examine our steps moving forward. But I must emphasize that we got so far this year,” she added, noting that the bill was killed in committee for the past four years without ever reaching the floor of the Senate or House.
“We are thankful to every legislator who did do the right thing,” she said. “We are so thankful to every constituent who wrote a letter and made a phone call, and especially to the transgender people of Maryland who came out and told their stories, who shared their very personal need for job and housing protections.”
“We will continue to fight every day. We will continue to analyze how we can get these important protections in place. But we are shocked and frankly appalled by this action today,” she added
The vote by the Senate came on the last day of the Maryland Legislature’s 2011 session and followed less than 10 minutes of debate. Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County) asked whether the bill would have an impact on private citizens seeking to choose a roommate in a private home. Muse also asked whether a ban on employment discrimination would force the Boy Scouts organization to hire a transgender person.
Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), one of the lead sponsors and supporters of the bill served as floor manager for what was expected to be a lengthy Senate floor debate. Raskin told Muse the bill would not cover people in private homes looking for roommates.
Raskin said the bill would cover the Boy Scouts organization for employment purposes, but said a transgender person seeking a job with the Boy Scouts would have to meet all other requirements for the job, including appropriate dress codes. He said the Boy Scouts, like any other employer, could not refuse to hire someone solely because of their status as a transgender person.
Immediately after Muse and Raskin completed their exchange, Sen. James DeGrange (D-Anne Arundel) offered a motion to recommit the bill to committee, saying he believed many senators did not feel they were ready to cast a vote on the bill. Raskin rose to oppose the motion.
Miller then called for a recorded roll call vote on the motion. When the Senate chamber’s electronic board showed the motion had passed by a 27-20 vote, expressions of shock could be heard in the chamber, especially by supporters seated in the visitor’s gallery.
Supporters who gathered outside the state capital building following the vote noted that a motion to recommit a same-sex marriage bill to a committee of the Maryland House of Delegates led to the death of that bill this year. However, activists following that development noted that supporters of the marriage bill called for recommitting it to committee when they determined they didn’t have the votes to pass it.
They chose to send it back to committee — against the strong wishes of some LGBT activists who supported the bill — under the premise that it would improve the chances of passing the bill next year by avoiding a direct losing vote.
In the case of the transgender bill, nearly all of the bill’s supporters wanted an up or down vote and opposed sending it back to committee. Supporters noted that the vote to recommit the bill to committee most likely represents the same breakdown of “yes” and “no” votes had the bill itself come up for a vote.
Some transgender activists, including members of the group Trans Maryland, called on the Senate to defeat the bill on grounds that it lacked a provision banning discrimination based on public accommodations. Backers said they could not have gotten the bill out of committee in the House of Delegates if that provision was included in the bill.
“Equality Maryland remains committed to fighting against discrimination and injustice targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at every turn,” the group said in a statement. “Progress takes time. Today’s result was not fair or right, but we will keep up the fight to make the Free State truly free.”