December 19, 2015 at 8:20 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
N.J. comes up short on overriding Christie’s trans bill veto
Chris Christie, Republican Party, New Jersey, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

The New Jersey legislature failed to override Gov. Chris Christie‘s veto of a pro-trans bill. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The New Jersey State Senate came up one vote shy of overriding Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a bill that would have streamlined the process for transgender people to make their IDs consistent with their gender identity.

The unofficial vote to override was 26-14, just one vote short of the number needed, but the bill was pulled down before the vote became final to avoid defeat. Two Republicans — State Sen. Diane Allen (R-Cinnaminson) and State Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerville) — joined all Senate Democrats to vote in favor of the override.

Five Republicans who voted for initial passage of the bill voted “no” on the override: Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank), Gerry Cardinale (R-Cresskill), Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield), Kevin O’Toole (R-Wayne) and Robert Singer (R-Lakewood). Beck voted “no” on the override even though she’s a sponsor of the bill.

Because the bill was pulled down, the vote wasn’t recorded in an official capacity. Although advocates had planned a vote in the Assembly, it was never taken up after the defeat in the Senate.

The legislation, S.1195, would have removed the requirement for a transgender person to undergo gender reassignment surgery before they can change the gender marker on their birth certificates.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge), who sponsors the bill in the Senate along with Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, said in a statement the loss is “a disappointment and a setback to the progress we have made for LGBTQ rights in New Jersey and in the nation.”

“This bill would have removed the barriers that transgender New Jerseyans face when requesting changes to such an important and personal identification document as their birth certificate to reflect who they are,” Vitale said. “It’s important to remember that this is their birth certificate, their identification, not the state’s.”

According to Vitale, the American Medical Association recommends policy proposed in the bill for “its ethical fairness.” The bill would also bring New Jersey into compliance with the federal government, which allows a transgender person to change the gender marker on the passport or Social Security card just by submitting notification from a physician they’re undergoing transition.

Assembly member Valerie Vainier Huttle (D-Englewood), who sponsors the companion bill in the Assembly, said in a phone interview with the Washington Blade on Friday the override failed because Republicans don’t want to embarrass Christie.

“I can only say the governor’s veto speaks volumes and unfortunately plays politics with our colleagues,” Huttle said. “For their sake, I will just say this sometimes they just don’t want to give the governor an override regardless of intent of how they voted.”

Huttle added the Assembly was prepared to take action on the bill if override succeeded in the Senate, but never had the opportunity because the Senate had to override Christie’s veto first as the chamber that originated the bill.

Christie has vetoed the legislation twice before: Once during a previous legislative session in January 2014, and again this year after he had declared he was seeking the Republican nomination to run for president. In his 2015 veto message, Christie cited potential for fraud as the reason why he rejected the bill.

“I remain committed to the principle that efforts to significantly alter State law concerning the issuance of vital records that have the potential to create legal uncertainties should be closely scrutinized and sparingly approved,” Christie said at the time.

Days after his second veto, Christie said during an interview on the conservative Michael Medved radio show the legislation was “beyond the pale.” The New Jersey governor could be heard laughing about his veto.

Brandon Lorenz, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, placed the blame for the failure of the override vote squarely on Christie.

“In the end, Chris Christie’s shameful decision to veto this important bill puts the well-being of transgender New Jerseyans at risk for no good reason,” Lorenz said. “This bill would have ensured that transgender people born in New Jersey are able to change their birth certificates to reflect their correct name and gender without unnecessarily expensive and invasive obstacles.”

In an email blast to supporters on Friday, the New Jersey LGBT group Garden State Equality identified the way each senator voted on the override and said the loss represents “a lack of decency, courage, and compassion.”

“New Jersey should not be out of line with the State Department, the medical community, and the LGBT community on this issue,” the message says. “This fight will continue until it is won!”

Huttle said she intends to try again with the bill in the next session with expanded Democratic majorities seated in the legislature — and hopefully a change in heart from Christie.

“We will keep trying,” Huttle said. “It’s just a matter of time before we get it right, even if we have to, unfortunately, wait two years to elect a Democratic governor in New Jersey.”

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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