A committee of the Maryland State Senate voted 6-5 to place a temporary hold on a transgender non-discrimination bill on Friday, adding yet another roadblock to a measure that survived a procedural attempt to kill it one week ago.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved a request by Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Cecil and Harford Counties) to place the hold on the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act. Jacobs is one of the bill’s most outspoken opponents.
Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), the committee chair, voted against the hold, but three other committee Democrats joined the three Republican members of the 11-member committee to vote for the hold.
The action prevented the committee from voting to release the bill to the full Senate, which must pass the legislation before the end of the day on Monday, when the Maryland Legislature adjourns for the year.
Frosh’s office said Frosh was expected to allow the committee to vote on the bill on Saturday morning. Supporters said they were hopeful the legislation might reach the Senate floor for a debate and vote on the same day, as originally expected.
The Maryland House of Delegates has already passed the bill, and Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign it.
Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a lead supporter of the bill, told the Blade late Friday that he and others supporting the bill were hopeful that at least two of the Democrats who voted for the hold would vote for the bill on Saturday morning when the committee was expected to meet between 10 and 11 a.m..
“The way I’m reading it now is we have five hard votes ‘yes’ and then there are at least two senators who supported the hold who could still vote for the bill tomorrow,” he said. “So I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be headed to the floor tomorrow,” he said.
Others familiar with the committee action identified the two Democrats who voted for the hold and who could vote for the bill as James Brochin and Bobby Zirkin, both Democrats from Baltimore County.
The Judicial Proceedings Committee was originally expected to vote on the measure Friday, one day after it held a two-hour hearing in Annapolis on Thursday in which about 40 witnesses testified for and against the bill.
Among those testifying against it were four transgender activists, including one from New York, who said the bill did not go far enough because it lacks a provision banning discrimination against transgender Marylanders in the area of public accommodations.
The bill’s author and chief sponsor, House of Delegates member Joseline Pina-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties), testified that she reluctantly removed the public accommodations provision from the bill in order to line up enough votes to pass it in a House committee.
Pina-Melnyk has said the bill would have died in committee, as it has for the past four years, if the public accommodations provision remained a part of the legislation.
As currently written, the bill would ban discrimination against transgender people in the area of employment, housing, and credit – including bank loans.
Most transgender activists in Maryland along with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the transgender rights project of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force are supporting the bill. They say they plan to push for the addition of a public accommodations provision as early as next year.
The bill received a further boost Friday morning from the Washington Post, which published an editorial calling on the State Senate to quickly pass the measure as a first step in rectifying longstanding discrimination against transgender people.
“The legislation is a modest, fair and reasonable step in the direction of equal rights for a minority that continues to suffer widespread bias,” the Post said.
Among those testifying in favor of the bill on Thursday was attorney Lisa Mottet, director of the NGLTF transgender rights project.
Longtime transgender rights opponent Ruth Jacobs, head of Citizens for a Responsible Government, emerged as the lead witness against the bill on its merits, saying she opposes any form of anti-discrimination protection based on gender identity.
In a development that surprised some attending the hearing, Zirkin criticized Jacobs’ organization for unleashing a barrage of computer generated “robo-calls” to state residents in the late evening hours over the past few days.
Zirkin — speaking to Jacobs after the hearing recessed — said his family received one of the calls around 3 a.m. on Thursday, which he said disturbed one of his children, according to people who listened to his conversation with Jacobs.
Zirkin was one of the committee members said to be undecided on whether to vote for the gender identity bill.
The bill reached the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee a little more than a week after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert and Prince George’s County) diverted it to the Senate Rules Committee, which supporters and opponents viewed as a clear move to kill the bill.
The Rules Committee is widely recognized as a “graveyard” for bills unpopular with the Senate leadership, especially its president.
But Miller relinquished his “hold” on the bill about a week later following what observers viewed as an extraordinary lobbying campaign led by the state LGBT group Equality Maryland and many of its LGBT and straight allies.
The campaign generated a barrage of phone calls and e-mails to Miller’s office complaining that his action went against the democratic principles of allowing legislation to be decided by an up or down vote rather than being killed in committee without a vote.
Supporters were hopeful the bill was back on track when the Judicial Proceedings Committee held its hearing on the measure on Thursday and indicated through Frosh that it would vote on the bill on Friday afternoon.
“This is not good because another day is lost,” said Dana Beyer, a Maryland transgender activist and former House of Delegates candidate from Montgomery County.
But Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Equality Maryland’s executive director, said she was optimistic that the Judicial Proceedings panel would approve the bill Saturday morning, placing it back on track for a full Senate vote over the weekend.