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March 21, 2008

Equal rights bill makes a move in the Ohio Senate

 

Columbus--The Equal Housing and Employment Non-Discrimination Act has made its first move in the Ohio Senate.

The measure, introduced March 11, would prohibit discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in public and private employment, housing and public accommodations.

It has been sent to the Senate Judiciary and Civil Justice Committee which is chaired by one of its co-sponsors, Columbus Republican David Goodman.

The legislation, also called EHEA, is Senate Bill 305. An identical measure, House Bill 502, is expected to be assigned to a committee when the House Rules panel meets on March 31.

Committee assignments are central to moving the bill closer to passage during this session of the legislature, which ends December 31.

Proponents say that full hearings in this session will set the measure up for passage in the next session by focusing the public’s attention on the issue and educating lawmakers about LGBT discrimination in employment and housing.

The Senate committee has nine members; six Republicans, three Democrats.

A majority vote of the members would green-light hearings.

In addition to Goodman, two of the Democrats on the panel are also co-sponsors: Eric Kearney of Cincinnati and Teresa Fedor of Toledo.

Two other committee members, Republicans Steve Stivers of Columbus and Lance Mason of Cleveland, told the Gay People’s Chronicle that they would support the bill in committee.

“If the bill comes up, I will vote for it, and I will support it in committee,” said Mason.

Stivers, who is also a candidate for Congress, is considering an amendment. However he said he would work to see that the bill gets hearings.

“I want to be constructive and work through the bill,” Stivers said.

The remaining Republicans on the committee are its vice chair Kirk Schuring of Canton, also a candidate for Congress, Steve Buehrer of Delta, Keith Faber of Celina, and Bill Seitz of Cincinnati.

Schuring has been a reliable anti-LGBT vote during his tenure in the legislature. As a senator in 2004, he voted for DOMA, the “defense of marriage” act.

Seitz, a member of the House that year, sponsored DOMA. He is closely allied with the anti-LGBT Citizens for Community Values, who backed both the DOMA statute and the constitutional marriage ban amendment passed later that year.

He reportedly “made rounds” that year urging Republican state senators to put the amendment on the November ballot “to help George W. Bush win Ohio.”

Faber and Buehrer voted for DOMA as members of the House, and are generally regarded as reliable social conservatives.

Senate President Bill Harris of Ashland, who is another factor in how far the bill will get in that chamber, told Ohio Public Radio on March 11 that, “I thought the law provided for that type of protection.”

“I think if it doesn’t, the committee will debate the issue,” Harris continued, “and I’m going to support the committee and what their position is.”

Equality Ohio director Lynne Bowman said the next step is to line up support in the business community.

“Speaker Husted and a number of our legislators have made it clear that in order to support this bill they will need to see the support of the business community,” said Bowman.

The House bill is jointly sponsored by Republican Jon Peterson of Delaware and Democrat Dan Stewart of Columbus. There are 16 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Dale Miller of Cleveland. There are ten co-sponsors, all Democrats.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 13 of these, plus D.C., include gender identity. Fifteen Ohio cities have ordinances that protect gays and lesbians, covering about a fifth of the state’s population. Four of these also include transgender people.

In May, employees of the state of Ohio were protected by an executive order signed by Governor Ted Strickland, who said he would sign EHEA if it lands on his desk.


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