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April 4, 2008

 

Equality bill will help Ohio's economy, Miller tells panel

 

Columbus--The Equal Housing and Employment Non-Discrimination Act moved in both chambers of the Ohio legislature this week, with testimony form its Senate sponsor and committee assignment in the House.

The measure would bar discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations. Twenty other states have similar laws; 13 of those cover gender identity.

State Senator Dale Miller, a Cleveland Democrat, told the Senate Judiciary and Civil Justice Committee on April 1 that there are two reasons why the legislation is needed.

“The first is that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong,” Miller said, citing a year-old Williams Institute study.

The institute, at the University of California-Los Angeles, reported that 17 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people have been fired or denied employment based on their sexual orientation, 28 percent were denied a promotion or given a negative workplace evaluation, and up to 40 percent were verbally or physically abused or had their workplace vandalized.

“The second reason is that this bill is necessary for our economic development,” Miller said. “If we are to attract and retain the best and brightest in Ohio, we need to welcome everybody’s talents. Many of the young, professional creative and entrepreneurial that we need to attract to Ohio and keep in Ohio are members of the gay and lesbian community.”

“Senate Bill 305 represents an idea whose time has come,” Miller said. “I have introduced this bill before, but now it has substantially more support than any previous time.”

Miller’s bill is an identical companion to House Bill 502, sponsored by Republican Jon Peterson of Delaware and Democrat Dan Stewart of Columbus. The two bills, often called EHEA, were both introduced on March 11.

“I’m pleased to report that response to the bill was favorable,” Miller said after his testimony. “Questions were technical in nature. No one questioned the basic premise of the bill.”

The Senate committee is chaired by Republican David Goodman of Columbus, who is a co-sponsor of the bill. Democrats Eric Kearney of Cincinnati and Teresa Fedor of Toledo are also co-sponsors on the panel.

Two other committee members, Republicans Steve Stivers of Columbus and Democrat Lance Mason of Cleveland, are not co-sponsors, but told the Gay People’s Chronicle that they would support the bill in committee.

The remaining senators on the panel are Republicans and generally hostile to LGBT concerns. They are Kirk Schuring of Canton, Steve Buehrer of Delta, Keith Faber of Celina, and Bill Seitz of Cincinnati.

Miller took three questions from the committee, according to Equality Ohio director Lynne Bowman, whose organization is the bill’s primary proponent.

After Miller listed 19 top Ohio employers that have gay or transgender job policies in place, Bowman said, Buehrer asked why the law is needed.

Miller answered that not all companies have such policies.

Stivers, according to Bowman, voiced concerns he expressed earlier to the Gay People’s Chronicle about unintended consequences, and the possibility of changing the dynamic at job interviews.

Miller told Stivers that EHEA is equivalent to existing Ohio laws that bar discrimination by race, color, religion, sex, familial status, ancestry, disability, and national origin.

Bowman said that Seitz wanted to know if the bill would create an affirmative action mandate to hire LGBT people.

Miller responded that he did not think so, but would defer to the Legislative Services Commission for an answer.

Bowman was pleased that no one on the panel brought up any objection to including gender identity in the bill, or that it does not contain a religious exemption.

Measure’s foes were watching

Sitting silently, observing the hearing, were anti-LGBT leaders Barry Sheetz and David Miller of Citizens for Community Values, and Chris Long of the Ohio Christian Alliance.

Later, Long distributed a statement saying, “This bill seeks to provide a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“The legislation would needlessly have the state of Ohio designate those living homosexual, bisexual or cross-dressing lifestyles as a protected class of citizens.”

“Were this bill to become law,” Long continued, “businesses may be compelled to provide restroom facilities accommodating transgender and cross-dressing individuals. Public schools may be forced to hire a man who dresses as a woman to be a third grade teacher. Employers may have to provide costly medical benefits to pay for sex-altering surgeries and treatments.”

“This bill could ultimately be used to undermine and challenge our state’s constitution, which recognizes marriage as a union between one man and one woman,” Long said.

The bill is expected to have proponent testimony this month, followed later by opponent testimony.

House sends bill to committee

The day before Miller testified in the Senate, the Ohio House assigned its EHEA bill to the State Government and Elections Committee.

The 15-member committee has eight Republicans and seven Democrats, whose positions on LGBT issues are a mixed bag. It is chaired by Republican David Daniels of Greenfield, who voted for the 2004 “defense of marriage act.”

The ranking Democrat is bill sponsor Dan Stewart of Columbus.

The rest of the Republicans all supported DOMA in 2004 except committee vice chair Cliff Hite of Findlay, who is a freshman. They include Jim Carmichael of Wooster; Thom Collier of Mount Vernon; Kevin DeWine of Fairborn, who is vice chair of the Ohio Republican Party; Larry Flowers of Canal Winchester; Steve Reinhard of Bucyrus; and Michelle Schneider of Madeira.

The other Democrats on the panel are Todd Book of McDermott, also a DOMA supporter; Edna Brown of Toledo; Matt Lundy of Elyria, a freshman; and EHEA co-sponsors Mike Skindell of Lakewood; Vernon Sykes of Akron; and John Domenick of Smithfield, who opposed DOMA in 2004.

 

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