Wednesday morning, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions approved the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, as it’s commonly referred to. The bill prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It was first considered by the committee in 2002 and was the subject of hearings in 2009 and 2012. Three Republicans, Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Ala.) and the bill’s original co-sponsor, Mark Kirk (Ill.) joined 12 Democrats to quickly approve what committee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) called “historic legislation.”
In his statement, Harkin reiterated the main points of the bill, stressing that passage was not only “the right thing to do” but also “good for business.”
“434 of Fortune 500 companies have implemented non-discrimination policies … 282 companies have policies that include gender identity,” he cited.
In his opening statement, Kirk, the bill’s major proponent, cited a personal obligation to uphold the Illinois tradition of President Abraham Lincoln and Sen. Everett Dirkson, who helped write and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Before he voted in opposition, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) offered three amendments to the bill but did not demand a same-day vote. In his opening remarks, he suggested providing more guidance for employers operating at shared facilities, a better definition of “transitioning” individuals and the elimination of a provision added in the manager’s amendment to allow cases to proceed when employers have legitimate reasons for certain employment decisions.
Afterward, the White House issued a statement welcoming the bipartisan approval of ENDA, citing anticipation of the Senate’s full consideration while urging the House to move forward with the legislation as well.
The 15-7 vote indicates a bipartisan effort but does not guarantee victory in the full Senate. Kirk and Murkowski are known moderates and though exemptions for small businesses and religious organizations were included based on Republican recommendations, the bill’s chances of succeeding past committee depend on GOP support. Though the bill is not expected to surface before the August recess, Harkin said he anticipated a full vote “sometime in the fall session.”