The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee failed Thursday to pass SB 449, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2013, which would have prohibited discrimination in employment, credit, housing and public accommodations based on gender identity or expression. The attempt to move the bill to the Senate floor fell one vote short, 6-5.
Voting in favor of the bill were Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery Co.), a chief cosponsor of the measure; committee chair Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery Co.); committee vice chair Sen. Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore City); Sen. Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery Co.); and Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore Co.).
Three Democrats – Sens. Norman Stone (D-Baltimore Co.), James Brochin (D-Baltimore Co.) and Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's Co.) – voted against the bill. They were joined by the committee's three Republicans: Sens. Joseph Getty (R-Baltimore, Carroll counties), Nancy Jacobs (R-Cecil, Harford counties) and Christopher Shank (R-Washington Co.). Today's vote effectively kills the measure by preventing it from receiving a vote by the full Senate.
The nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in SB 449 are already exist at the county level for nearly half the state's residents. Montgomery County, Howard County, Baltimore City and Baltimore County all have laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression that are even broader than what was proposed in SB 449. Nineteen of the 20 remaining counties without protections do not have the authority to pass similar measures, meaning that a statewide bill is needed to prohibit discrimination against transgender people in those counties.
The bill's fate may have been sealed by a committee switch engineered by Senate leadership in an attempt to pass a wind-energy bill championed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) that had failed to pass the Senate Finance Committee in previous sessions. Sen. Muse, a past opponent of O'Malley's wind-power initiatives, was switched to the Judicial Proceedings Committee, replacing Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George's Co.), who took Muse's seat on the Finance Committee. Ramirez, a cosponsor of SB 449, would have been a solid ''yes'' vote for transgender nondiscrimination protections.
At a Feb. 26 hearing on SB 449, Muse seemed open to supporting the bill, making favorable comments during witness testimony and attending the entire hearing. Many of the witnesses in favor of the bill specifically geared their comments toward Muse during that hearing.
Sharon Brackett, board chair of Gender Rights Maryland, said proponents of the bill have one last – albeit unlikely – opportunity to pass the bill in the Senate. That would require Senate President V. Thomas ''Mike'' Miller (D-Calvert, Prince George's counties) to order the bill to the floor for an up-or-down vote, something he did in 2009 for a bill related to the death penalty.
SB 449 currently has 23 cosponsors and needs 24 for passage. Supporters of the bill say they could possibly get up to 30 votes if Miller allows an up-or-down vote.
''The three Democratic senators who voted against the bill should be embarrassed,'' Brackett told Metro Weekly. In a statement reporting the vote, Brackett specifically thanked supporters for their efforts, and, in particular, Gender Rights Maryland's Executive Director Dr. Dana Beyer, as well as board members Jon Shurberg and Darrell Carrington.
''Personally, I am happy to see that our team made the best efforts we could with several recalcitrant senators,'' Brackett said in the statement.
''We may not have our rights, but we have wind power,'' Beyer told Metro Weekly grimly, referring to the Muse-Ramirez committee switch. She expressed doubt that the nondiscrimination bill will be able to gain traction during the 2014 session, because it is an election year.
Other groups who had supported the bill also expressed shock and anger at the committee's decision to scuttle the bill.
''It is terribly disappointing the committee failed to stand up for fairness and protect transgender Marylanders,'' Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans said in a statement following the vote. ''In the past month more than 300 people visited their legislators in support of this bill. Additionally, more than 400 constituents called their senators on this committee and almost 2,000 constituent letters, petitions and postcards in support of SB 449 were given to the 11 members of the committee.''
''We are particularly incensed with Senator Jim Brochin's vote,'' Evans continued. ''He had at least 1,000 constituents contact him asking him to support this bill. Despite this, he turned his back on these voters. It is ironic that transgender people in his own district have protections yet he wouldn't cast a vote to extend these protections to individuals in the 20 counties that aren't so fortunate.''
Brochin voted for a similar bill – though it did not include public accommodations – that passed the Judicial Proceedings Committee by a 7-4 vote in 2011, after an amendment he proposed to exclude housing from the list of nondiscrimination protections failed, 6-5.
''Despite widespread public support and effective grassroots activism, the Maryland State Senate has let transgender people down again,'' Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. ''The National Center for Transgender Equality is disappointed that more than a decade after Maryland, one of the most progressive states in the country, passed a sexual orientation anti-discrimination law, lawmakers choose to lag behind so many other states and localities in establishing these key protections for their transgender people.''
Donna Cartwright, a member of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality's (MCTE) steering committee, also released a statement today: ''It is now 14 years since transgender protections were stripped from LGBT anti-discrimination legislation by the General Assembly. It's long past time for the legislature to take meaningful action to address the severe discrimination and disadvantage that trans people face. … We will build on the strong grassroots organizing and coalition-building effort that engaged our community and allies this year. We look toward a renewed effort as soon as possible in Annapolis.''
Evans pledged supporters of equality would come back and continue pushing the bill in future sessions.
''This is not over,'' she said. ''Equality Maryland will come back every year until transgender Marylanders are afforded the right to be free from discrimination in their jobs, homes and places of public accommodations.''