December 12, 2012 at 6:17 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Baldwin assigned to key Senate panels for LGBT issues
Tammy Baldwin, LGBT caucus, Democratic National Convention, gay news, Washington Blade

Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin has been named to key Senate committees on LGBT issues (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin has landed seats on Senate committees that may address key issues that persist for the LGBT community in the coming Congress, including employment discrimination and school bullying.

In a notice published Wednesday, the Democratic Steering Committee announced it has selected Baldwin, who’ll be the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate, to sit on four committees: the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee; the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee; the Senate Special Committee on Aging; and the Senate Budget Committee.

The Senate HELP Committee has jurisdiction over a key piece of pro-LGBT legislation — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — as well as the measures that would address school bullying known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

Meanwhile, the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over a pro-LGBT bill that Baldwin has long championed in the U.S. House — the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act — which would extend health and pension benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees.

The notice states committee assignments for all Democratic caucus members, including Baldwin, were made during a Democratic Steering Committee meeting held on the same day. Additionally, the notice says these assignments are subject to approval by the full Democratic caucus and approval of an organizing resolution by the full Senate when the 113th Congress convenes in January.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, congratulated Baldwin on her selection to the Senate HELP Committee and pledged to work with her on the effort to move ENDA to the Senate floor.

“She has been a tremendous champion for workplace fairness, and we are thrilled that she will bring her powerful voice to the upcoming debate about whether all LGBT Americans deserve a fair shot at the American dream,” Almeida said. “We are optimistic this committee will debate and mark-up ENDA in 2013, and we will push for Senate leaders to move the bill from committee to the floor of the Senate for a long-overdue vote of that full chamber.”

Shawn Gaylord, director of public policy for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said his organization has “long appreciated” Baldwin’s leadership and looks forward to working with her on legislation related to LGBT students when she begins work on the Senate HELP Committee.

“The Democrats on this committee already unanimously support the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act and we anticipate maintaining that level of support in the 113th Congress,” Gaylord said. “Her dedication to creating safe schools for all young people is well-known, and as the first openly gay senator, she has a valuable voice and perspective to bring to this effort.”

Baldwin’s assignment to the Special Committee on Aging also has relevance to the LGBT community because that committee will work on reauthorization of the Older Americans Act. Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE, has been pushing for an LGBT-inclusive reauthorization of that law.

Aaron Tax, SAGE’s director of federal government relations, said his organization looks forward to working with Baldwin in work with the Senate HELP Committee and the Special Committee on Aging.

“Senator-elect Baldwin has been a tireless advocate for LGBT older adults,” Tax said. “We at SAGE could not think of a better person to sit on the Senate HELP Committee and the Special Committee on Aging. We look forward to once again working with her on the re-authorization of an LGBT-inclusive Older Americans Act.”

The committee assignments have yet to be announced for the six openly LGB members of the U.S. House: Jared Polis, David Cicilline, Sean Patrick Maloney, Mark Takano, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Pocan. Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said assignments for new members will probably be announced next year, although the timing isn’t clear.

Baldwin’s transition team didn’t respond on short notice to request to comment on her committee assignments in time for this posting.

NOTE: This article has been updated to include a comment from Aaron Tax and a reference to the significance of Baldwin’s appointment to the Special Committee on Aging.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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