John M. Becker

Polis Files ENDA Discharge Petition With Narrowed Exemption

Filed By John M. Becker | September 17, 2014 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: discharge petition, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, Jared Polis, religious exemption, religious freedom, religious liberty, religious privilege

Today, openly gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) filed a discharge petition with the House clerk's office seeking to force a vote on a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that contains a narrowed religious exemption.

The Washington Blade has the story:

The Senate passed a version of the ENDA last year, but the House under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has refused to bring the legislation up for a vote despite the eight Republican who have co-sponsored the bill. Supporters of ENDA, including the Human Rights Campaign, the White House and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), insisted the bill would pass if only Boehner would allow for a vote...

Polis introduced a resolution before the House Rules Committee, H.Res. 678, that would narrow ENDA's religious exemption in the event the committee approved the bill for a vote on the House floor. It's that version of ENDA that would come up for a vote if the discharge petition is successful. But it remains to be seen how that version of ENDA would fare in the Senate, where a more expanded religious exemption was deemed necessary for passage.

A discharge petition is a legislative maneuver that allows a majority of House members (218, to be exact) to force a bill out of committee and onto the full floor. Although threats of and attempts to use discharge petitions are not entirely uncommon, the technique has only been successfully used twice on major legislation in recent history.

The Blade's Chris Johnson notes that the ENDA discharge petition faces an "uphill battle" (a polite way of saying the measure is a long shot at best), not least because not even one of ENDA's seven Republican co-sponsors have agreed to sign it.

Polis's narrowed version of ENDA comes in response to criticism from LGBT advocates and organizations about the measure's outdated and unprecedented religious exemptions. A coalition of LGBT groups supporting ENDA collapsed overnight in July over concerns that the exemptions would, in the words of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Rea Carey, "[create] gaping legal loopholes to discriminate in federal, state, and local legislation."

Carey called today's news "a great victory in the work to end employment discrimination" against LGBT people, and hailed Polis and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi for leading the charge for a fairer ENDA.

While Polis's strengthened version isn't likely to pass into law anytime soon, Johnson points out that the measure could "serve to highlight [the] difference between the Democratic and Republican parties" less than two months before the critical midterm election, where Democrats are fighting to maintain control of the Senate.

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