July 11, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Polis, Miller seek House hearing on ENDA
Jared Polis, Democratic Party, Colorado, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade, Victory Fund, Congressional LGBT Pride Reception

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) seeks a House hearing on ENDA (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

In an attempt to build off the momentum of a successful Senate committee vote, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and the lead House Democrat on workplace issues are calling for a House hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

In an open letter dated July 11, Polis, who’s gay and lead sponsor of ENDA in the U.S. House, and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Education & the Workforce Committee, seek a hearing in the Republican-controlled House on ENDA. The letter is addressed to Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.).

“It is time for this committee and this Congress to act in a meaningful way and ensure that LGBT individuals are not denied the right to work and earn a living because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Polis and Miller write.

The letter comes on the heels of a successful vote on ENDA in the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee in which 12 Democrats were joined by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.,) Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in voting in favor of the bill.

Polis and Miller emphasize that a House hearing on ENDA would capitalize on the momentum that the measure enjoys after the committee vote in the Senate.

“The vote sends a strong message that employment decisions should be based on merit and not prejudice,” Polis and Miller write. “The House must seize the moment and stand on the side of fairness and equality by holding a hearing that will kick start the process of moving this important legislation through this body.”

The last time the House held a hearing on ENDA was in 2009. Democrats at the time were in control of the chamber and Miller was chair of the committee, which was then known as the House Education & Labor Committee.

Kline’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment. The Minnesota lawmaker voted against a version of the legislation in 2007 and he spoke out against ENDA during the hearing in 2009.

“H.R. 3017 represents a significant departure from longstanding civil rights law,” Kline said at the time. “It creates an entirely new protected class that is vaguely defined and often subjective.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Polis and Miller “should be commended” for acting quickly in the aftermath of the Senate committee vote on ENDA.

But in the event that Kline is unresponsive, Almeida invited Polis and Miller to ask Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.,) a committee member with experience on ENDA, to hold a hearing on the legislation in the House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee, which Andrews co-chairs.

“The Democrats could set that hearing without Republican approval for September or October, and they could call two or three LGBT victims of workplace discrimination and some pro-LGBT business leaders to testify about how ENDA is good for business,” Almeida said. “I’d love to see the Democrats invite Exxon’s CEO to testify and explain why they refuse to adopt the same LGBT fairness policies that competitors like Chevron have adopted.”

Such a hearing, Almeida said, would lay the foundation for a successful discharge petition on ENDA in the House and a successful Senate floor vote between 60 and 70 votes.

The complete letter from Polis and Miller follows:

July 11, 2013

The Honorable John Kline
Chairman
Committee on Education and the Workforce
2181 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Kline:

We write to respectfully request that you hold a committee hearing as soon as possible on H.R. 1755, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), legislation that would end employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and make clear that Americans in the workplace should be judged on whether they can do the job.

We believe that the strong bipartisan vote by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) on June 10in favor of ENDA reflects the overwhelming consensus that LGBT Americans should have the freedom to work and be full participants in our economy.  The vote sends a strong message that employment decisions should be based on merit and not prejudice.  The House must seize the moment and stand on the side of fairness and equality by holding a hearing that will kick start the process of moving this important legislation through this body.

As you may know, H.R. 1755 enjoys bipartisan support in the House and currently has 177 cosponsors. The legislation would prohibit employers from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. Such protections are already in place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.  More than 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies already extend workplace protections based on sexual orientation and more than one-third on the basis of gender identity.

Chairman Kline, business leaders, advocates, and an overwhelming supermajority of Americans – nearly 75 percent – support prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is time for this Committee and this Congress to act in a meaningful way and ensure that LGBT individuals are not denied the right to work and earn a living because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We look forward to working with you on this and many other issues important to our nation.

Sincerely,

GEORGE MILLER
Senior Democratic Member
JARED POLIS
Member of Congress

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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