Gay bills are coming in the new Congress
But these long-awaited hate crime and job bias measures may not move until next fall
Washington, D.C.--Rep. Nancy Pelosi, DCalif., was sworn in as Speaker of the House on January 4, marking the return to poser of Democrats in both houses of Congress, and the first time that a woman has led either body.
The Democrats wasted no time in beginning to enact a series of ethical and administrative reforms in the House. Among the measures passed are rules requiring that legislative sponsors of �earmarks,� money inserted into a measure for a particular purpose or organization, be identified. That process has mushroomed to $64 billion annually.
Whether earmarks are good or bad often depends on who benefits. For example, Pelosi has used the process to direct millions of dollars to AIDS activities in San Francisco.
Another measure that zipped through the House was �pay as you go,� which requires that any new spending be offset by cuts elsewhere or by finding new revenue. However, there are provisions to waive that provision. This may affect increases for AIDS programs.
Expectations are high within the LGBT community for moving pro-gay legislation in the new Congress. There is some talk of possibly reviving an amendment to the federal civil rights law to include sexual orientation. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is floating the idea of a national civil union bill.
Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Brad Luna says their priorities remain early passage of a hate crime bill and moving the Employment Non-Discrimination Act forward. ENDA would outlaw job discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity.
Hearings and even votes in years past have prepared the ground for these two bills, while other measures would require substantial discussion with allies on specific language, and building broad political support.
Chicago political consultant Michael Bauer would make ENDA a priority. He speaks from experience when he says, �Getting fired from a job for being gay is a life-changing experience . . . One friend actually hung himself.�
He also sees repeal of the antigay military policy known as �don�t ask, don�t tell� as among the top priorities. Repeal got a boost last week from retired Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. John Shalikashvili.
Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., introduced a repeal bill last year in the House, but hearings were not held and there was no companion measure in the Senate. So it is unrealistic to expect a vote soon, says Bauer.
�We in the community have to be able to manage our expectations and not expect that our issues will be coming to a vote in the next three to six months,� Bauer said.
He sees the best window for passage of pro-gay legislation coming after the summer recess and before the presidential campaign hits full speed in early 2008.
�Everyone has high hopes for the Democratic Congress,� says Carl Schmid, who lobbies on HIV issues for the AIDS Institute. �I think we have to put things into perspective. Money is going to be tight. There is going to be a lot of competition just within the health community.�
He says the �pay as you go� provision will make it more difficult to get increases for AIDS programs. �It is going to take hard work.�
The immediate battle is over the appropriations continuing resolution for the current fiscal year. Part of the glue that held together reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act for federal AIDS funding was a $70 million increase in Title II money. Those funds now need to be found and put into the continuing resolution, or the entire compromise may fall apart.
Schmid sees Congress holding oversight hearings on all AIDS medical services, prevention programs, and abstinence-only sex education programs. There also is some talk about possible prevention legislation �to force our government to do a little more� in setting prevention goals and targeting spending to the communities most affected by the epidemic.
Bauer says, �We have a whole slew of issues, and not everything is going to get through. If we accomplish two or three things, we�re doing great.�