Lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia will consider a number of LGBT-specific issues during their respective legislative sessions that began on Wednesday.
Maryland legislators are likely to consider a bill that would ban anti-transgender discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. The Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last April because Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) reportedly blocked a vote on it.
Miller has publicly backed the proposed measure that gay state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) will formally sponsor. He and state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) are expected to champion the bill in the chamber.
Gov. Martin O’Malley, who signed the state’s first anti-trans discrimination law in 2002 when he was the mayor of Baltimore, also backs the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act.
“We’re very optimistic this year because the world has changed,” Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer told the Washington Blade. “The attitudes of not only the voters who proved on Nov. 6 that they’re supportive of progressive issues such as marriage equality and the Dream Act, but also the legislators have noticed that and are feeling a little bit emboldened.”
Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans shared Beyer’s optimism.
The Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality has grown to include CASA de Maryland, Progressive Maryland and 17 other organizations. Equality Maryland has posted a petition on its website in support of the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act
Evans said this group is “modeling ourselves off of the” campaign in support of the same-sex marriage referendum that passed last November by a 52-48 percent margin.
“We have an incredible window here in 2013 with the strength of the coalition, the good feelings everybody has about Equality Maryland,” she said. “We are going full surge ahead and hopefully passing this once and for all in 2013.”
A proposed assault weapons ban in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 students and six administrators dead and efforts to repeal the state’s death penalty are among the issues expected to dominate this year’s legislative agenda in Annapolis, but Evans highlighted other issues on which she and other advocates hope to work in the coming year.
These include working with Attorney General Doug Gansler and other officials to ensure the state’s same-sex marriage law that took effect on Jan. 1 is properly implemented. She pointed to insurance and tax-related issues for same-sex couples and making sure state agencies have provisions that include gender-neutral references are top priorities.
Evans said she expects most of these changes will take place through new regulations or administrative tweaks, but “they are working on answering the question of redoing all of the areas of state law and what needs to be done legislatively. Strengthening Maryland’s anti-bullying laws is another priority.
“The problem has always been making sure once the law is passed it is implemented at all levels,” Evans said.
Va. bill would ban anti-LGBT bias
Virginia lawmakers are expected to consider a measure during their legislative session that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees.
State Sens. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) and Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) introduced Senate Bill 701 last October. The state Senate passed similar measures in 2010 and 2011, but they stalled in the House of Delegates.
Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish told the Blade last November that SB 701’s chances of passing in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates this year are “very slim.”
“While our biggest challenge is the House of Delegates, this will be an opportunity to get legislators on the record for pro-LGBT legislation and see if they are really supporting equality and their constituency this election year,” he said.
Ebbin told the Blade he expects the Senate General Law Committee could potentially hear SB 701 in the coming weeks.
“The bill has passed the Senate before, but failed in the General Laws and Technology Committee last session,” he said. “It’s a sometimes challenging environment because there’s Republican control of that committee, but we’re working hard and hope there will be a breakthrough this year.”
Del. legislators expected to debate marriage
Delaware lawmakers are expected to consider a same-sex marriage bill between now and the end of their current legislative session on June 30.
Gov. Jack Markell, who signed the state’s civil unions law in 2011, suggested to the Huffington Post last August that state lawmakers could debate a measure that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot this year.
Spokesperson Catherine Rossi reiterated that point to the Blade.
“The governor expects that a marriage equality bill will be worked this session,” she said.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) described efforts to place a same-sex marriage bill on the 2013 legislative agenda as a “no-brainer” during an interview with the News-Journal on Tuesday. House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) added she expects Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) and state Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear) to introduce the measure.
Both legislators co-sponsored the civil unions bill.
Gays and lesbians can legally marry in neighboring Maryland and eight other states and D.C. Lawmakers in New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island are expected to consider similar measures in the coming weeks.