Transgender discrimination bill subject to discrimination, some say
The Senate president's decision to sideline House-backed legislation to prevent the discrimination of transgendered people has infuriated activists and some lawmakers.
On Saturday, the House of Delegates voted 86-52 in favor of the bill, shipping it to the Senate before the Monday crossover deadline. It was one of 94 bills that arrived at the Senate doors over the weekend -- and the only one to land in the Rules Committee rather than in a panel that can move legislation to the full chamber.
"It goes there to die or because it was late," said a steaming Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who sponsored the anti-discrimination legislation. "My bill was not late."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller offered his take yesterday: "At this point in time I’d say the chances of passage of that bill are next to none." He added that his chamber "spent a lot of time" on "important social issues" only to see them die in the House, an apparent reference to the same-sex marriage legislation.
Miller did not support the right of same-sex couples to marry but, knowing a majority of senators wanted the bill passed, labored to move it along to the House of Delegates. Bill leaders in the House did not secure enough votes for passage and marooned the bill in a committee.
Gay-rights group Equality Maryland and Pena-Melnyk called Miller's move on the anti-discrimination bill unfair, comparing his tactics to the bullying that transgendered people can face.
"The way this bill is being handled, with such an iron fist, it's like a big bully," Pena-Melnyk said. "It's absolutely disrespectful and gross. It's marginalizing a small group of people and telling them they don't count."
Pena-Melnyk noted she waited more than an hour yesterday to talk with Miller, a fellow Prince George's County Democrat, to no avail.
In a release this afternoon, Equality Maryland Executive Director Morgan Meneses-Sheets wrote, "Here's the irony -- a bill designed to eliminate discrimination is now be subject to discriminatory procedure."
The Rules Committee has met at least once since the transgender anti-discrimination bill was sent there, but it has not taken up the issue. "It's all up to the president," said Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, the Baltimore County Democrat who chairs Rules.
Asked whether it was unusual to assign a timely bill to her committee, Klausmeier said she didn't know, but then later conceded it was.
"I'm trying to work with the president to get it out," she said. If Rules does vote out the bill, it would move to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which could hold a hearing on it, vote and send it to the full chamber.
Sen. Jamie Raskin, who sits on Judicial Proceedings and supports the bill, offered a theory on what's happening:
"I think the president perceives the disappointment of the Senate in the House's failure to pass the marriage bill," the Montgomery County Democrat said. "There is lingering disappointment."
He added: "We shouldn't express our disappointment in the failure of one major civil rights bill by killing another one."