News :: Politics

Honda Still Sees Chance for ENDA

by Matthew S. Bajko
Monday Dec 9, 2013
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Rep. Mike Honda
Rep. Mike Honda  (Source:Cynthia Laird)

Despite the House leadership’s refusal to bring it up for a vote, a federal bill banning LGBT workplace discrimination isn’t dead yet in the eyes of a South Bay congressman.

In an editorial board meeting last week with the Bay Area Reporter, Congressman Mike Honda (D-Campbell) said he remains hopeful about seeing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act pass out of the House prior to the mid-term elections of 2014.

"I don’t think it is a lost cause," said Honda. "I have some hopes it could pass but it is not going to pass without some work."

Early last month the Senate passed the long stalled pro-LGBT legislation on a vote of 64-32, which Honda described as an "eyebrow raising surprise." The first time the Senate voted in 1996, it failed to pass ENDA on a vote of 49-50.

The legislation, which President Barack Obama has repeatedly pledged to sign into law, prohibits most employers with more than 15 employees from taking adverse employment actions against staffers or job applicants based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." It does include exemptions for some employers based on the degree to which they are involved in religious activities.

The bill is not as comprehensive as the original legislation introduced by the late Representative Bella Abzug in 1974. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s website, the legislation now known as ENDA was first introduced in 1994 and has been revised and reintroduced over the ensuing decades.

The House adopted ENDA in 2007, but like the Senate version passed more than a decade earlier, it did not include gender identity and prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation only.

After the Democratic-controlled House, led by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), faced heated criticisms from transgender leaders and their allies for omitting gender-based protections, congressional leaders have sought to pass a fully inclusive version of ENDA.

According to new research released in mid-November from UCLA’s Williams Institute, a majority of Americans in every U.S. congressional district support laws that protect against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation such as ENDA. (The LGBT think tank reported there is no relevant public opinion data on ENDA’s gender identity provisions.)

Institute officials stated that their research confirms that ENDA would pass if all House members followed their constituents.

Yet seeing the House take up the bill appears unlikely. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said he would not bring ENDA to the floor for a vote, saying he does not believe the legislation is necessary and that it would lead to frivolous lawsuits.

LGBT leaders have criticized Boehner for his stated reasoning for his opposition to ENDA. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin stated he finds it "shocking that Speaker Boehner, entrusted by the people to make laws, is so fundamentally mistaken about what’s currently on the books. The speaker is flat out wrong on the facts and the law."

Pelosi, now the House minority leader, has also been critical of Boehner’s stance on ENDA, saying that the House Republican leadership "continues to stand in the way of progress."

In a statement released shortly after the Senate passed ENDA, Pelosi called on the House Republicans "to bring ENDA up for a vote, pass this long overdue bill, and make this measure the law of the land."

Asked about Boehner’s stated opposition to the legislation, Honda said it was "disingenuous of him" to cite that reasoning for why he won’t bring the legislation up for a vote.

He added that Boehner "again ... could change his mind like he did with" allowing a vote on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year or the GOP reversal on the government shutdown this fall.

In terms of ENDA, Honda suggested Boehner’s change of heart might occur next spring after the filing deadlines in many states have closed for candidates to enter House races.

"Maybe he is waiting until March," said Honda. "If he sees his members don’t have Tea Party candidates running against them he will make a calculation about scheduling ENDA for a vote."

The same could be true for the fate of comprehensive immigration reform, said Honda, with Boehner waiting to see how many Republicans may be facing an intraparty primary fight from a more conservative Tea Party-backed candidate before allowing the House to take up the issue.

As with ENDA, should the House take up immigration now it could inflame the GOP’s more conservative faction and propel more candidates to jump into House races.

"He may be holding it hostage until March to see if he has the numbers," said Honda of Boehner’s thinking about when, or if, to schedule a vote.

Passage of either legislation could be beneficial to the 72-year-old Honda’s own re-election efforts next year. He is fending off a challenge by fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, 36, a Fremont resident and Silicon Valley technology lawyer.

Asked why he was still interested in serving on Capitol Hill amid such partisan gridlock, Honda said for the simple reason there is more work to be done.

"You don’t leave when there is a fight to be had," he said.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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