Columbus--A bill to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Ohioans from discrimination has been introduced in the Ohio House.
House Bill 28 was introduced February 1 by State Rep. Dale Miller, a Democrat who represents Cleveland’s west side.
Miller also introduced a similar bill in 2003, the first such measure ever in the Statehouse. This bill is more comprehensive, he said, because it also applies to state boards and commissions.
The measure amends all sections of the Ohio Revised Code dealing with discrimination by adding “sexual orientation” wherever other protected classes such as race, religion, and national origin are currently listed.
“Sexual orientation” is defined as “heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality or transgenderism, whether actual or perceived.”
The bill would bar discrimination in employment, housing, selling and renting, credit, financial assistance, labor organizations and public accommodations such as restaurants and hotels.
Violations would be handled by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, which is also directed to work with the Department of Education to teach students about sexual orientation discrimination.
The bill has ten co-sponsors in addition to Miller: Reps. Dixie Allen of Dayton, Peter Ujvagi of Toledo, Catherine Barrett of Cincinnati, Barbara Sykes of Akron, Mike Skindell of Lakewood, Dan Stewart of Columbus, Annie Key of Cleveland, Edna Brown of Toledo, Minority Leader Chris Redfern of Catawba Island Township and Assistant Minority Leader Joyce Beatty of Columbus. All are Democrats.
Allen, Ujvagi, Barrett, Skindell, Stewart, Redfern, and Beatty were the co-sponsors of the 2003 bill.
Miller said he’s pleased to have picked up three co-sponsors.
“After the publicity and the vote on the [marriage ban] amendment, I’m glad to see the increase,” said Miller. “It shows that there is still some support for fairness and equality.”
The 2003 bill got sponsor testimony in the State Government Committee, but went no further.
The current bill is assigned to the Civil and Commercial Law Committee, which is chaired by Republican Rep. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati.
Seitz sponsored the anti-gay “defense of marriage act” signed into law last year and attempted to persuade state senators to put the constitutional marriage ban amendment on the ballot on behalf of the Bush presidential campaign.
Rep. Todd Book of McDermott is the ranking Democrat on the committee. Joyce Beatty is the only committee member among the bill’s co-sponsors.
Miller said Seitz has said little about the bill.
“He’s given no indication that it will be heard,” said Miller, “but he’s given no indication to the contrary, either.”
Miller said he will push for proponent testimony in addition to sponsor testimony.
Miller said the timing of the bill is important.
“We’re going into budget hearings,” said Miller, “and the focus is going to be on economic improvement through more business activity.”
“I don’t think we can work on growing the economy until we say everyone is a participant and everyone is welcome,” said Miller. “People who work hard and play by the rules should share in the benefits. I see this as both a civil rights and an economic issue.”
State Sen. Dan Brady is also planning to reintroduce his Senate version of the measure, Miller said. Brady, a Cleveland Democrat, first introduced it in 2003. Miller added that Brady has no timetable in mind.
Brady is prohibited from serving past 2006 due to term limits. Miller has indicated he will seek that Senate seat.
Other states with similar anti-discrimination bills pending are Oregon, Maine, Colorado, Delaware, and Montana.
Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation in their equal rights laws. Five also include transgender people.
Eleven Ohio cities have similar ordinances, covering a sixth of the state’s population.
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