Senate vote on ENDA expected next week

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act before Thanksgiving — and there are indications that it could be as early as Nov. 4.

In the latest tally, there are 54 Senate co-sponsors and at least 58 “yes” votes for ENDA, which would ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace with exceptions for businesses with fewer than 15 employees, religious institutions and the Armed Forces.

With a majority in the co-sponsor column and the favorable votes nearing 60, advocates seem confident the full Senate will vote in favor of ENDA. There’s also optimism that a dramatic shift in public opinion on LGBT rights and increased calls for moderation from the GOP leadership may lead to success in the GOP-controlled House.

ENDA, in some form, has been introduced every congressional session since 1994 except the 109th. In the 113th Congress, Colorado Democrat Jared Polis is the chief sponsor in the House, where ENDA is before the Judiciary, Education and the Workforce and House Administration, Oversight and Government Reform committees. The measure has 186 co-sponsors, including Wisconsin Reps. Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan.

Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley is the chief sponsor in the Senate, where ENDA gained approval from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in June.

Three Republicans on that committee – Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Orrin Hatch of Utah – backed the bill. The bipartisan vote led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to say he wants to bring ENDA to the floor this fall.

This week, Reid was working to bring the bill to a vote on Nov. 4, probably in the evening.

“I look forward to working with Leader Reid and the rest of my colleagues to get this bill on the floor and passed through the Senate,” Merkley said.

He added, “All Americans deserve the right to work hard and earn a living. It is fundamentally inconsistent with our American values that in 29 states you can still be fired for who you are and whom you love.”

In October, Americans for Workplace Opportunity, a coalition of civil rights and labor groups, sought to bring citizens to the Capitol to press for ENDA, a campaign that was overshadowed by the partial government shutdown that began just days before the scheduled lobby day.

Later in October, AWO announced that two major political donors – Democrat Jonathan Lewis and Republican Paul Singer – had pledged $250,000 each to the campaign to pass ENDA in the Senate.

Lewis, who is gay, is a businessman and philanthropist from Miami. Singer, whose son is gay, is a hedge fund executive from New York. Singer’s American Unity Fund, which bills itself as “the voice of pro-freedom Republicans.” is promoting the message that “it’s time for Congress to protect ALL Americans in the workplace” and nudging Republican lawmakers to vote for ENDA.

The commitment, said AWO campaign manager Matt McTighe, “is yet another indicator of the unusual partnerships –conservatives and liberals, Fortune 500 companies and labor unions – who are uniting behind this year’s effort to pass ENDA.”

Lewis and Singer “realize there is simply nothing partisan about protecting every American from discrimination on the job,” said Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “Each and every person in this country should be able to go to work without fear of being fired because of who they are or who they love. That’s not a Democratic value or a Republican value, it’s an American value.”

A recent national survey by TargetPoint Consulting, where Republican pollster Alex Lundry is the chief data scientist, found that two-thirds of voters, including 56 percent of Republicans, support passing a federal law to ban workplace bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

And 86 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement, “We should all follow the Golden Rule and treat others as we’d like to be treated, including gay, lesbian and transgender Americans.”

The percentage stayed about the same when Republicans were asked about equality in the workplace: 86 percent agreed that “everyone has a right to earn a living – including gay, lesbian and transgender Americans – and workers should be judged on the job they do, nothing more, nothing less.”

Lundry said supporting ENDA is smart policy and smart politics. Lundy said GOP support for the bill “is a testament to the conservative values at the heart of the proposed law.”