DE GLBT Non-Discrimination Bill Passes House - Once Again
|byBridin Reynolds Hughes|
|As speakers lined up to testify at the recent House of Representatives hearing on HB36, things appeared promising for the bill. In fact, as 15 proponentsspeakers from organizations including the Delaware State Bar Association, the Delaware State Education Association and the ACLUarticulated their arguments in favor of the anti-discrimination measure, little dissent was heard. The bill passed easily out of committee. While there was considerably more drama preceding the actual House vote as amendments were added, again the bill triumphed, earning a 22-18 vote right to go to the Senate. Again.
While the bill has picked up a moderate degree of momentum with the stronger House vote, even its clearest supporters seem cynical about its future in the Senate. This year.
"As Sen. George Bunting is fond of saying, this is a 'when' bill not an 'if' bill. It simply will happen when enough people realize what it actually does," said Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. Schwartzkopf and Bunting are the sole sponsors of the bill who reside south of the canal. However, the legislationa revised version of the long debated HB99has bipartisan support in the balance of the state and solid backing of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. HB36 would bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, public works contracting, public accommodations, housing and insurance. Religious groups would be largely exempt from the measure. "I don't know how much more political pressure I can bring to this but I am hoping it does finally make it to the Senate floor and ultimately pass," said Minner in an interview prior to the House passage.
With the Legislature out of session and many of the major players traveling during the break, bets are hard to make. Senate Pro Temp Thurman Adams, D-Bridgeville, has yet to announce where the bill will be assigned. For six consecutive years, similar legislation has emerged from the House but been shelved by high ranking senators.
Lead sponsor of HB36, Rep. Bill Oberle, R-Beechers Lot, an upstate Republican, said, despite that history, he feels optomistic about HB36 particularly owing to the six amendments added to the bill by House representatives. The most significant of these changed the description of "sexual orientation" contained in the original bill, which defined it as "heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual orientation, whether real or perceived." The amendment struck the language "real or perceived," which some critics of the bill said was overly broad and potentially problematic. The bill was also amended to specify that it would not impact on sections of Delaware law dealing with "marriage, adoption or the teaching of human sexuality in public schools."
"The legislation addresses many of the objections opponents raised to the previous two versions of the legislation. At least we've taken away the arguments they've presented. That does not suggest that I'm foolish enough to think that there will still not be opposition around this bill, but I think it's going to be more difficult for it to be held in committee" Bunting said, he, too, would like to see those amendmentsand other modifications made to the bill defining its scopeprove to be the formula for passage. "Unfortunately, I still do not see it coming out of committee. Last year the offer was made to delete 'real or percieved' and still it remained in committee," said Bunting.
Lobbying efforts by both sides are sure to be renewed when the General Assembly reconvenes April 12.
"Discrimination in any form should not be tolerated," Oberle said. "I was not raised to turn my head and ignore the obvious, even when it would be easier to do so. This legislation addresses a very real problem. To discount it only depreciates all of us as a society.
"We're not breaking new ground. Many other political jurisdictions and private employers have adopted similar positions. It's my hope that HB36 takes us to the next plateau where one's sexuality plays no role in defining whether someone is employed, where one lives or where one can seek refuge. We are talking about protecting and assuring the very basic needs of life."
Bridin Reynolds Hughes is an occasional contributor to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 3 April 8, 2005