After months of lobbying and public pressure, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) on Monday became the 54th sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
The senator’s name is listed as among the sponsors of ENDA on “Thomas,” the website for the Library of Congress that monitors legislation. According to the website, Nelson signed on as a supporter Monday, the same day Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that a Senate vote on ENDA would take place before Thanksgiving.
The news was first reported via Twitter by the New York Times’ Jeremy Peters.
Sen. Bill Nelson, one of last Dem holdouts on LGBT discrimination bill, signs on as cosponsor. Supporters are now 3 votes short
— Jeremy W. Peters (@jwpetersNYT) October 29, 2013
The Florida Democrat’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on why the senator had come to support ENDA. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in July, Nelson had expressed concerns about the transgender protections in the bill.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) chief sponsor of ENDA, praised Nelson for announcing his support for the legislation.
“I am pleased to have Sen. Nelson’s support on this bill,” Merkley said. “Momentum is building to end LGBT discrimination in the workplace. This is an issue of fundamental fairness.”
Nelson was one of three Democrats who continued to holdout on publicly announcing support for ENDA. The remaining two are Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).
Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, said Nelson was “slow” to support ENDA, but applauded him for coming on board.
“Senator Nelson is following the lead of Florida’s citizens and business leaders who stronly support ENDA,” Almeida said. “We think 100 percent of Democrats should support LGBT workplace protections, and we’ve teamed with MoveOn.org to petition the two remaining undeclared Democratic senators Manchin and Pryor.”
Nadine Smith, executive director of statewide LGBT group Equality Florida, said she’s proud to see Nelson “standing on the right side of history and standing up for the values of equality and fairness.”
“He is a leader who listens to the facts and has also listened to his heart,” Smith said. “He has sat down with us many times and heard first hand the stories of the harm inflicted by discrimination. His sponsorship matters as others in the Senate including Republicans look to his leadership on issues.”
ENDA is described on Thomas as having 55 co-sponsors, but two of the senators listed — former Sens. Mo Cowan and the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg — are no longer in the Senate, bringing the number of co-sponsor back to 53. Counting Merkley, the legislation now has 54 sponsors.
Another supporter of ENDA who isn’t yet a co-sponsor is Senator-elect Cory Booker, a Democrat who’s known for his support for the LGBT community and married gay couples on the first day same-sex marriage came to New Jersey.
Republicans Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also voted for ENDA in committee. That means the legislation now has 57 votes, which is three short of overcoming a filibuster.
The Florida Democrat’s support arguably places the legislation well ahead of any other legislation specific to an LGBT issues in terms of the number of co-sponsors. Since Sen. Jay Rockfeller became a supporter, ENDA has exceeded the number of co-sponsors for legislation that led to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010 and the 2001 version of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.