July 23, 2014 at 6:50 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Polis poised to start discharge petition for ENDA

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Rep. Jared Polis has positioned himself to start a discharge petition for ENDA (D-Colo.). (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

The chief sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. House has positioned himself to start a discharge petition for the legislation — both with the religious exemption in the Senate-passed bill and with a narrower carve-out identical to existing civil rights law.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, has filed two resolutions for floor consideration of ENDA before the House Rules Committee, which is charged with governing debate for legislation that comes up on the House floor.

On June 23, Polis introduced before the committee a rule, H.Res.639, which would enable floor consideration of the version of the ENDA that the Senate passed in November.

That was weeks before the blow-out over the bill among several LGBT groups who dropped support from the legislation over its religious exemption, which, even if ENDA were to become law, would still enable religious organizations to discriminate against LGBT workers in non-ministerial positions.

But on Tuesday, Polis also introduced before the Rules Committee another resolution for the consideration of ENDA, H.Res.678. That resolution would also enable consideration of ENDA, but with an amended religious exemption that is the same as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The introduction of these resolutions could be a sign that Polis is planning a discharge petition for ENDA because they would be the first steps necessary to start the process.

To start a discharge petition on a bill, 30 legislative days must have passed since the legislation was referred to committee. In this case, the Senate-passed version of ENDA was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on January 8, 2014.

Additionally, seven legislative days must have passed since a resolution to consider the legislation was referred to the Rules Committee. As such, the process for collecting signatures a discharge petition on the Senate-passed could begin at any time in the House, but the same process for a discharge petition for a bill with an amended religious exemption couldn’t begin until July 31.

Filing a resolution to start a discharge petition next week on an ENDA with a narrower exemption would enable the signature-gathering process in early fall in time for the Democrats to run on the measure leading up to the mid-term elections in November.

Dan Turrentine, chief of staff for Polis, was non-committal was asked Wednesday about the purpose of the introduced resolutions before the Rules Committee.

“A number of different options are under consideration by Mr. Polis,” Turrentine said. “This is not the first rule he has dropped on this topic as he considers various options for passing.”

A discharge petition for an ENDA with a narrow religious exemption would be consistent with what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared during a news conference this month when she said he had a “plan” for ENDA that she couldn’t disclose at the time.

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, was also non-committal about a discharge petition when asked about the purpose for the resolution to consider ENDA with a narrower religious exemption.

“There has been no decision made about a discharge,” Hammill said.

Although a discharge petition may be one of the only ways to bring up ENDA in the House given House Speaker John Boehner’s refusal to bring up the legislation in the Republican-controlled chamber, the chances of its success are limited because it’s perceived as being a tool for the minority. A spokesperson for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a Republican original co-sponsor of ENDA, has said she wouldn’t sign a discharge petition for ENDA.

Although White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has told the Blade the chances of passing ENDA this year are “not very good,” the White House spokesperson Shin Inouye has earlier backed the idea of a discharge petition, saying in Match, “We would welcome efforts to bring this legislation to the floor for a vote.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • The prospects of passing ENDA never seem good. If it’s not inaction by Democrats who won’t bring it to a vote, like when Pelosi was Speaker, it’s obstruction by Republicans when they are in power. Then you have the issue of having a President in office that will sign it into law rather than veto it, and of course the people within the community which seem to always find an excuse why they have to oppose it.

  • Pelosi should have led a discharge effort on ENDA when she was Speaker of the House during Obama’s first term! Too little too late.

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