December 3, 2014 at 8:56 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
House panel rejects last-ditch effort to pass ENDA
Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) attempted to amend NDAA with ENDA. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Republican-controlled panel in the U.S. House late Wednesday rebuffed a last-ditch effort to pass a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as part of major defense legislation before Congress adjourns this year.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) introduced the amendment on behalf of Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay and chief sponsor of ENDA, during House Rules Committee consideration of the fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill. Polis is a member of the Rules Committee, but was absent when the amendment came up for a vote.

The panel, which is heavily stacked in favor of Republicans, rejected the amendment 7-3 without discussion by a party-line vote. Had the Rules Committee accepted the amendment, it would have made ENDA part of the defense spending measure before it headed to a vote on the full House floor.

Lawmakers who voted against the amendment were House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.), Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas). Voting in favor of the amendment were Reps. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-Calif.), James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Hastings.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is one of eight House Republican co-sponsors of ENDA and a House Rules Committee member, but she wasn’t present during the committee session to vote on the amendment.

Last year, the Senate passed a version of ENDA on a bipartisan basis by a 64-32 vote, but the House never brought up the measure for a vote and is set to adjourn by Dec. 11. It’s unlikely the bill will come up when Congress reconvenes for the 114th Congress given major election wins by Republican on Election Day.

The version of ENDA with which Polis tried to amend the defense bill had a religious exemption along the lines of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a Polis aide said. Unlike the version of ENDA the Senate passed last year, the Polis measure would bar LGBT discrimination at religious-affiliated businesses for non-ministerial positions.

Normally, the House only allows amendments germane to the legislation under consideration. But the Polis aide said Republicans make waivers for germaneness all the time and the lawmaker believed ENDA is “just as, if not more important, than all of the amendments they have added under waivers.”

House Republicans who co-sponsor ENDA and the LGBT group Freedom to Work had promoted the effort to pass ENDA as an amendment to the defense authorization bill.

Just hours earlier, six House Republicans who co-sponsor ENDA — including Ros-Lehtinen — sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner calling on him to allow a vote on the LGBT anti-bias jobs on the House floor as an amendment to a larger legislative vehicle.

But that was geared toward the Senate amending its version of the defense bill with the broader religious exemption the chamber approved last year, then working to make sure ENDA stayed in the bill when the conference committee hashed out the legislation. That effort became more complicated when it became unlikely the Senate would take up no amendments to its version of the defense bill, let alone the LGBT measure.

No explicit protections exist in federal code prohibiting companies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, although the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has interpreted existing protections for gender under Title VII to protect transgender workers.

In July, President Obama signed an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. The final rule of that order was made public on Wednesday and will take effect with new or modified contracts beginning 120 days later.

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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