Lisa Keen | Keen News Service
House Democrats announced Wednesday, Sept. 17, that they will try to use a parliamentary procedure — a discharge petition — to force the Republican-dominated chamber to vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Scott Overland, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who initiated the petition, said it had 76 signatures within the first couple of hours. It needs 218 and the bill has 202 co-sponsors who are eligible to sign the petition.
The discharge petition has become the only hope in the Republican-dominated House for ENDA to reach the floor. House Speaker John Boehner has made clear repeatedly that he will not schedule ENDA for a vote.
The “discharge petition” can force the bill out of committee and onto the floor, but it is a complicated and difficult maneuver.
According to House rules, the petition is first filed with the House clerk. If a majority of House members (218, not including delegates) sign the petition, the clerk will put ENDA on the “discharge calendar.”
After seven days on that calendar, supporters can, on the second or fourth Monday of the month, bring a motion to discharge the bill from committee to the floor. If the House passes that discharge motion, supporters can then ask the House to approve a motion to send ENDA to the floor immediately.
If the motion for immediate consideration passes, the House will debate and vote on ENDA. If any of the votes fail, ENDA returns to committee. If the discharge motion fails, ENDA cannot come up again this session.
ENDA currently shows 205 co-sponsors, but that includes three delegates, from D.C., Puerto Rico and the Mariana Islands. So the discharge petition needs the signatures of all 202 co-sponsors plus another 16 members.
The U.S. Senate passed ENDA last November by a vote of 64 to 32. But since then, many national LGBT groups have begun to withdraw support for the Senate version of the bill because it exempts some employers based on the degree to which they are involved in religious activities.
The discharge petition seeks to force consideration of the Senate version of ENDA (S. 815) (as amended by Polis in July), includes an exemption for religious organizations but only to the same extent such organizations are exempt from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act with respect to discrimination based on race, color, sex and national origin.
Although Polis’ discharge petition has the support of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., discharge petitions are “rarely successful,” according to The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper.
In a statement released Wednesday, Polis said he introduced the measure because “Republicans have been dragging their feet on this bill for too long, allowing workplace discrimination against hardworking LGBT Americans to continue.”
“In our nation that was founded on the notion that with hard work and dedication anyone can get ahead, it is unthinkable that employees can still be fired for who they love or what gender they are,” said Polis. “I hope members from both sides of the aisle will sign this petition and protect all Americans from discrimination in the work place.”
ENDA seeks to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in private and public employment. In private employment, it applies only to employers who have 15 or more employees.
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