February 12, 2013 at 11:03 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Harkin promises to move ENDA this year
Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin has pledged to move ENDA this year (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin has pledged to move ENDA this year (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The lead Democrat on the committee responsible for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act pledged Tuesday morning that the legislation would move before the end of the year.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said during a Center for American Progress event on pensions that he intends to move ENDA before the year’s end.

“I’ve been on ENDA for years — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — and as chairman of the HELP Committee, I intend to move it this year,” Harkin said. “We’re going to move ENDA this year, so I just want you to know that, OK?”

A Harkin aide later clarified that his remarks meant a committee vote and the lawmaker was not making predictions about a floor vote because that would be outside of his jurisdiction in the Senate.

In June, Harkin held a hearing on ENDA in which for first time in history an openly transgender person, Kylar Broadus, testified on workplace discrimination issues before the Senate.

Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, said he welcomes Harkin’s commitment to ENDA and expects not only a committee vote on the legislation, but a full vote on the Senate floor.

“Mr. Harkin is a champion for all American workers, and we’re confident that the Chairman and his staff will guide ENDA through a successful HELP Committee mark-up giving ENDA a clear path to the Senate floor,” Almeida said. “We urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to keep his promise from more than three years ago to bring ENDA to the Senate floor for a vote, and it would be helpful for the White House to proactively and publicly call for that full Senate vote on ENDA to take place in 2013.”

Adam Jentleson, a Reid spokesperson, said the Senate majority leader backs ENDA and “looks forward to working with” Harkin to set up a floor vote on the bill.

“Sen. Reid supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and looks forward to working with Sen. Harkin and others to schedule a vote on the Senate floor after the bill is reported by the committee,” Jentleson said.

Harkin makes the comments amid hopes that President Obama will call on Congress to pass ENDA during his upcoming State of the Union address or unveil a plan to issue an executive order barring anti-LGBT job bias for federal contractors.

The White House has repeatedly said it prefers a legislative approach as opposed to administrative action. However, the Washington Post reported on Sunday that Obama is thinking about reversing that decision if Congress doesn’t act.

Almeida emphasized the importance of issuing the executive order regardless of whether the Senate plans to take action.

“But today’s great news that Chairman Harkin will make a strong ENDA push in the Senate does not provide a valid excuse for delaying the president’s LGBT executive order any longer,” Almeida said. “The time is now right for the president to build on his impressive LGBT record by signing that order granting workplace protections in almost 25 percent of American jobs.”

Watch the video here (courtesy Center for American Progress)

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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