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August 28, 2009

 

Equality bill will be first when Ohio House returns

Columbus--The Equal Housing and Employment Non-Discrimination Act will be the first bill considered when the Ohio House returns from recess on September 15, its proponents say.

The measure, also known as EHEA or H.R. 176, prohibits discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity in public and private employment, housing and public accommodations. Twenty-one other states have similar measures.

Equality Ohio, which has been advocating for the bill, sent an email to supporters August 19 announcing that House Speaker Armond Budish of Beachwood had said that the bill would be the first voted on that day.

If that holds, Budish will have kept his promise to the LGBT community despite pressure from more conservative elements of the Democratic Party, including Majority Leader Jennifer Garrison of Marietta, who has announced a bid for secretary of state.

Conservative Democrats have agreed to vote for the bill, some more reluctantly than others. But, fearing that the vote could threaten the House’s Democratic majority, they would prefer to delay the vote until after the November 2010 election.

Though Budish continues to deny any pressure to delay the vote, sources for a July Gay People’s Chronicle report on the backstage maneuvering have continued to stand by it, and others have joined them since the story appeared.

The maneuvering is part of a conflict within the Democratic Party in both Columbus and Washington, pitting those who want to use the party’s majorities to pass a progressive agenda against conservatives who fear a backlash and loss of power.

Garrison, who is anti-gay, was recruited to run for secretary of state by conservatives who fear that the progressive Franklin County Commissioner Marilyn Brown is weak and will not be able to win the seat being vacated by Jennifer Brunner, who is running for U.S. Senate. Brunner recruited Brown.

Garrison, and by extension an LGBT equality agenda, will continue to swirl around this drama, which may also play out when EHEA hits the Senate.

The equality bill will most likely pass the 99-member House. Democratic sponsor Dan Stewart of Columbus predicts that at least 51 of 53 Democrats will vote for it. Republican sponsor Ross McGregor of Springfield believes that 12 to 20 Republicans will join them.

But that will not be without a floor fight as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce again tries to amend the bill to include sweeping “tort reform” provisions they have not otherwise been able to pass.

McGregor said the Chamber has been “very engaged” in the bill, to which they tried to attach seven amendments in committee.

Neither Stewart nor McGregor want the Chamber’s entire amendment package to be put on the bill, as it is extraneous to the measure’s purpose and could make it difficult for Democrats to support.

However, McGregor says that there are a couple of pieces of the Chamber’s agenda that, if passed, could make the bill a lot easier to get through the Republican-controlled Senate.

As an example, McGregor cited one proposed amendment that requires someone with a complaint to exhaust all administrative avenues before going to court.

“It has as good a shot as ever at passing both chambers,” McGregor said, adding that some negotiation around the Chamber amendments will help him in two ways.

The first, he said, is to get as many Republicans as possible to vote for the bill in the House.

“That would make the bill a truly bipartisan bill and send the message to the Senate that we want it to pass and that the House has done its part,” McGregor said.

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