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ENDA overcomes filibuster hurdle in Senate, heads to final vote this week

ENDA

ENDA Senate cloture voteLast night, the U.S. Senate voted 61-30 to invoke cloture on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), holding back a Republican filibuster and moving the legislation towards a final vote this week.

Fifty-four of the Senate’s 55 Democrats voted in favor of cloture on the bill, as did seven Republicans: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.  Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, a supporter of ENDA, was at a funeral and did was not present for the vote.

As BuzzFeed pointed out, ENDA has a long, multi-decade history in the U.S. Senate:

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been pending in Congress over the past 20 years, would, in its current form, ban sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in most workplaces.

An earlier version of the legislation that only included sexual orientation protections was voted on in 1996, but it failed 49-50. There has been no Senate vote on the legislation since then.

The cloture vote sets up a 30-hour period of debate on the legislation, which will be followed by a final vote that will require only a simple majority of the chamber to approve.

During the debate period, amendments to the legislation will also be considered.  According to Gay City News, these amendments will deal almost exclusively with the bill’s religious exemptions and came up as a point of contention during yesterday’s cloture vote:

According to a Senate staffer, as the yes votes stalled at 58, Collins recognized that further negotiation was needed on the question of religious exemptions from ENDA before additional GOP members could be brought around. Three Republicans were in play –– Rob Portman of Ohio, who last year announced his support for marriage equality while noting his son is gay, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Collins pulled the three into a Senate cloakroom meeting with Democrat Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, where Ayotte and Portman indicated their concern was that no religious group invoking an exemption under ENDA should be held liable by any state or local government action. Toomey was looking for something broader –– an exemption by private corporations and individuals claiming a religious objection, which would essentially gut the legislation. In fact, some leading legal advocacy groups believe the language in ENDA already provides too broad a religious exemption.

According to the Senate staffer, Schumer, Ayotte, and Portman agreed that an amendment barring state and local governments from stepping in to limit ENDA’s exemptions would be considered and could be approved by a simple majority. Toomey’s amendment will also be considered, but would require a 60-vote margin for approval, meaning that the Pennsylvanian will be able to say he pushed for the amendment but will have no chance of it being approved.

Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, ENDA’s lead sponsor, approved the proposed votes on the two amendments.  In a statement issued after the cloture vote, the White House  praised the Senate for its action, but spoke directly to the religious exemptions issue: “[President Barack Obama] also encourages lawmakers to ensure that the legislation remains true to its goals as it is considered.”

On Monday, in advance of the Senate vote, House Speaker John Boehner put the kibosh on any hopes the bill might see a vote in the House of Representatives.  “The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email sent to journalists.

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