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Senate panel approves LGBT-inclusive education bill

By 12-10 vote, committee reports out bill with anti-bullying protections

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HELP, Health, Education, Labor and Pension, Tom Harkin, United States Senate, Washington Blade, gay news
HELP, Health, Education, Labor and Pension, Tom Harkin, United States Senate, Washington Blade, gay news

The Senate HELP Committee under Sen. Tom Harkin approved an LGBT-inclusive education reform bill (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

A Senate committee approved on Wednesday by party-line vote an education reform bill that includes language aimed to protect LGBT students against bullying and harassment.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reported out legislation to reauthorize the Elementary & Secondary Education Act by a vote of 12-10 after a two-day period of considering amendments.

The 1,150-page education bill, known as the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, incorporates two standalone bills aimed to protect LGBT students: the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or SNDA, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, or SSIA.

Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said she’s “thrilled” the education reform bill is moving forward and even more encouraged that the legislation includes SNDA and SSIA.

“These provisions serve as a model for federal legislation that would create safe, supportive and healthy school environments for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” Byard said.

Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments, the SNDA-like provision in the bill establishes LGBT students as a protected class and prohibits schools from discriminating against any student based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The discrimination includes allowing bullying against them.

The bill also contains provisions similar to SSIA that advocates for a positive school climate and requires reporting on incidents of bullying, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s up to Democratic leadership to determine when the bill will come up for a floor vote. The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the timing for a vote.

Following the hearing, Harkin told the Washington Blade he expects that a floor vote on the legislation will happen “probably after Labor Day.” He declined to comment on the inclusion of SSIA and SNDA as part of the larger legislation.

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a member of the committee, told the Blade she’s pleased the panel reported out legislation that includes the LGBT provisions without any qualms from senators on the committee.

“I think it’s terrific that those measures are in the base bill and that during the course of the markup, certainly there were no efforts to remove that language, or question that language,” Baldwin said. “I think that’s a great step forward.”

On Tuesday, the committee rejected a substitute bill for education reform proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the panel. That measure lacked both SNDA and SSIA.

Among the “no” votes to the LGBT-inclusive bill was Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who voted against the bill by proxy. His opposition to the larger bill is noteworthy because he’s an original co-sponsor of SSIA. Kirk’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on his “no” vote.

The party-line vote in committee raises questions about whether the measure will find bipartisan support to meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor. It also raises concerns about whether a similar measure could pass in the Republican-controlled House.

Nonetheless, Baldwin said she sees a path forward for the legislation on the Senate floor and the possibility of Republican support.

“I listened carefully to Sen. Alexander’s remarks at the end of this,” Baldwin said. “And he sees a path forward to reauthorizing the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, and getting it to the president’s desk. That’s less likely to happen if there’s a filibuster. So if he continues in the vein that he has, understanding that there’s differences, but that we can resolve those in a conference committee after the Senate has acted, that would be great. But, you know, it’s far from assured.”

The same committee has also jurisdiction over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is expected to face a panel vote this summer.

But Baldwin says she doesn’t anticipate the proceedings on the LGBT-inclusive education bill to predict what will happen with ENDA.

“Not necessarily — very different bills,” Baldwin said.

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Politics

Laphonza Butler appointed as California’s first openly LGBTQ U.S. senator

Dianne Feinstein died in D.C. on Sept. 28

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EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler speaking at EMILYs List's annual We Are EMILY National Gala, May 16, 2023. (Photo Credit: EMILY’s List/Facebook)

On Sunday evening, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he is appointing Black openly lesbian EMILY’s List President, Laphonza Butler, to the vacant seat of the late U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein who died Friday at age 90.

Butler’s wife is Neneki Lee, the D.C.-based director for labor union SEIU’s Public Services Division.

News of Butler’s selection by Newsom was first reported by Politico’s California Bureau Chief Christopher Cadelago. A source knowledgeable on the governor’s team told Politico there were no preconditions about whether she could run in 2024.

Newsom’s office confirmed that he has picked Butler, a Democratic strategist who rose to prominence in the labor movement, to fill Feinstein’s seat.

In an emailed statement, Newsom said:

“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the U.S. Senate. As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault. Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington D.C.” 

Equality California tweeted a statement praising Newsom’s action:

Democrat Alex Padilla, now serving as California’s senior U.S. senator, released the following statement after Newsom appointed Butler to fill the vacancy created by the late Senator Feinstein: 

“Throughout her career, Laphonza Butler has been a strong voice for working families, LGBTQ rights, and a champion for increasing women’s representation in politics. I’m honored to welcome her to the United States Senate.

“Governor Newsom’s swift action ensures that Californians maintain full representation in the Senate as we navigate a narrow Democratic majority. I look forward to working together to deliver for the people of California.” 

Butler is a longtime leader in Democratic politics in California and beyond. She has been involved in campaign strategy, and the labor movement for two decades, and according to her official biography she has dedicated her life to empowering women and supporting them in finding their voice, and using it to make meaningful change.

Newsom’s office noted in its statement:

“Butler, a longtime senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris, labor leader and advocate for women and working people, will be the first openly LGBTQ person to represent California in the Senate. She will also be the first Black lesbian to openly serve in Congress in American history and the second Black woman to represent California in the Senate following Vice President Kamala Harris.”

Prior to joining EMILYs List, Butler served as Director of Public Policy and Campaigns in North America for Airbnb. She also was a partner at SCRB Strategies, a political consulting firm where she was a strategist for candidates running up and down the ballot and a senior advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign.

With nearly 20 years in the labor movement, Butler has served as the president of the biggest union in California, and the nation’s largest home care workers union, SEIU Local 2015. She was elected to this position at just 30 years old, one of the youngest to take on this role. As president, Butler was the leading voice, strategist, and architect of efforts to address pay inequity for women in California and a top advocate for raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour — the first state in the nation to do so, benefiting millions of working women in low wage jobs. That effort also gave hundreds of thousands of home workers access to paid time off. She also served as an SEIU International Vice President and President of the SEIU California State Council.

Throughout her career, Butler has been highly regarded as a strategist working to elect Democratic women candidates in political offices across California and nationally. A long-time supporter of Kamala Harris in her California runs, Butler was a key leader in Vice President Harris’ presidential campaign. She served as a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in California during the primary and general elections. Most recently, Butler was a campaign operative behind the campaign to make the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors all-women for the first time in its history with the election of Supervisor Holly Mitchell.

She has been a member of the University of California Board of Regents and a member of the board of directors for the Children’s Defense Fund and BLACK PAC.

Laphonza grew up in Magnolia, Miss., and attended one of the country’s premier HBCUs, Jackson State University. She lives in Maryland with her wife, Neneki, and together they have a daughter, Nylah.

EMILY’s List is an American political action committee that aims to help elect Democratic female candidates in favor of abortion rights to office. It was founded by Ellen Malcolm in 1985. The group’s name is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast.” Malcolm commented that “it makes the dough rise.”

Newsom appoints Laphonza Butler to the U.S. Senate:

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Congress

Shutdown averted with bipartisan bill over objections of far-right House caucus

45-day continuing resolution passed 335-91.

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U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) (Screen capture/PBS News)

The U.S. House on Saturday approved a 45-day continuing resolution that, should the Senate approve the stopgap measure, as expected, will avert a government shutdown.

In a stunning turn of events, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats backed the proposal, H.R. 5860 advanced by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), which was passed with a vote of 335-91.

Ninety Republicans and one Democrat voted against the continuing resolution which, in addition to funding U.S. government agencies through mid-November, will provide billions in disaster relief .

Screenshot/C-SPAN

Democrats agreed to the bill even though it did not contain U.S. aid to Ukraine. Still, the most conservative members of McCarthy’s caucus have warned they would replace their speaker if he cooperated with Democrats on a deal to avoid a shutdown.

In recent weeks, these members advanced far-right anti-LGBTQ amendments to spending packages that stood no chance of becoming law.

The Senate voted 88-9 to pass a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) that funds the government at current levels through Nov. 17 and gives the Biden administration $16 billion it requested to assist victims of natural disasters.

“Bipartisanship, which has been the trademark of the Senate, has prevailed. And the American people can breathe a sigh of relief,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

After the Senate voted late Saturday evening to pass the House stop-gap continuing resolution, the White House released the following statement from President Biden:

“Tonight, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to keep the government open, preventing an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hardworking Americans. This bill ensures that active-duty troops will continue to get paid, travelers will be spared airport delays, millions of women and children will continue to have access to vital nutrition assistance, and so much more. This is good news for the American people.

But I want to be clear: we should never have been in this position in the first place. Just a few months ago, Speaker McCarthy and I reached a budget agreement to avoid precisely this type of manufactured crisis. For weeks, extreme House Republicans tried to walk away from that deal by demanding drastic cuts that would have been devastating for millions of Americans. They failed.

While the Speaker and the overwhelming majority of Congress have been steadfast in their support for Ukraine, there is no new funding in this agreement to continue that support. We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted. I fully expect the Speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.”

Biden is expected to sign the measure once it is delivered to the White House before the midnight deadline.

UPDATED:

On Saturday, September 30, 2023, the President signed into law:
 
H.R. 5860, which provides fiscal year appropriations to Federal agencies through November 17, 2023, for continuing projects of the Federal Government and extends several expiring authorities.

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Congress

McCarthy dealt another blow by far-right members seeking to replace him

Rep. Emmer denies he’s interested in becoming next Speaker

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Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After joining with the Democrats on Friday to sabotage House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (Calif.) plan to forestall a government shutdown with a last-ditch spending package, a group of far-right members are now focused on replacing him.

The stop-gap funding bill was defeated 232-198 with more than 20 Republicans voting against the measure.

House GOP sources tell the Washington Blade that removing McCarthy from the speaker’s chair is now a top priority, along with resisting pressure from Senate Republicans seeking to broker a deal to avoid allowing funding to lapse.

These sources confirmed reporting in the Washington Post about discussions of tapping U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.) to become the chamber’s top Republican, though the congressman told CBS Minnesota/WCCO News, “I fully support Speaker McCarthy. He knows that and I know that. I have zero interest in palace intrigue. End of discussion.”

While Emmer was among the 39 House Republicans who voted with the Democrats in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, which protects the rights of couples in same-sex marriages, in April he was among the more vocal members pushing for a federal ban to prohibit transgender women and girls from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

In January, McCarthy narrowly secured his bid for the speakership after an unprecedented 15 votes from his caucus. Many of the same members now calling for his replacement demanded concessions, including conditioning their votes on McCarthy’s agreement to allow any member to call for a motion to vacate the chair at any time.

During the votes, which were held over a period of five days, other members like U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) were nominated for the position.

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