April 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Md. trans bill clears crucial committee vote

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Judicial Proceedings Committee of the Maryland State Senate voted 7-4 on Saturday to approve legislation that would ban discrimination against transgender Marylanders in the area of employment, housing and credit.

The vote to approve the bill and send it to the Senate floor came after 90 minutes of debate and after the panel defeated three hostile amendments that supporters said would have killed the bill had they passed.

One called for removing from the bill the provision banning job discrimination against transgender people and another would have removed the bill’s lanaguage protecting transgender Marylanders from housing discrimination.

Another would have stricken a provision allowing people seeking redress under the law to take private legal action against against an employer, landlord and other parties accused of engaging in discriminatory practices prohibited under the law.

The committee voted unanimously to approve what supporters called a friendly, nonsubstantive amendment that modifies the bill’s definition of gender identity.

Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), the lead supporter of the bill in the Senate, agreed to the amendment, saying it would enable some questioning senators to back the bill.

With lawmakers frantically trying to complete work on dozens of bills before the legislature adjourns for the year Monday night, supporters of the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act said the adoption of the amendment adds yet another step in the process of passing the bill. The House of Delegates, which has already passed the bill, must now vote to approve the wording change from the amendment.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT group leading efforts to pass the trans bill, said House leaders would expedite a vote to accept the amendment. She said the biggest hurdle left for the bill is its debate and vote on the Senate floor, expected to begin Monday on the final day of the legislature’s 2011 session.

Opponents were expected to offer amedments along the lines of those defeated by the committee, she said, and any substantive amendment approved by the Senate would result in the death of the bill. There would be no time left for the House to go back and vote on such an amendment, Meneses-Sheets and others familiar with the legislature said.

The bill could come up before the Senate as early as Monday morning but might be brought up as late as Monday night. There’s a remote but unlikely chance that the Senate could take up the bill late Saturday night, according to one source familiar with the legislature who spoke on condition of not being identified.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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