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NEWS: Gay Rights Legislation On Agenda As Congress Returns

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Gay Rights Legislation On Agenda As Congress Returns

by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff

Posted: January 14, 2008 - 1:00 pm ET

(Washington) Members of Congress began returning to Washington on Monday with three LGBT rights bill still in play - the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Whether any of them advance will be up to the will of the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate.

The Democratic-led House reconvenes Tuesday. The Senate returns Jan. 22.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Act was named for the 21 year old college student who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998. It would have added sexuality to the list of categories covered under federal hate crime law.

The bill passed the House in May and the White House threatened to veto it. (story) In an effort to get around a veto the Senate version was tied to the 2008 defense authorization bill. It passed in September (story) and then went to conference where it was stripped out.

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) has pledged to reintroduce the bill before the session ends.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, passed the House in November. (story) but without protections for the transgendered.

The legislation would make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring, firing, promoting or paying an employee.

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) has indicated he wants to introduce a Senate version before the session ends but it is unlikely it would come to a final vote before the session ends in the fall. The White House also has indicated the President would veto ENDA if it is passed.

Legislation to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" the ban on gays serving openly in the military is still in committee. The bill has bipartisan support with 136 sponsors.

DADT was enacted in 1993. Since then more than 12,000 servicemembers have been dismissed when it was learned they are gay. According to statistics from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network which advocates for gays in the military an average of two service members are dismissed under the law every day.

All three bills could be pushed aside as Democrats struggle to deal with a sinking economy, a lingering war and election-year politics.

The Democratic-led House reconvenes Tuesday with the familiar scenario of having to deal with a President Bush veto. The White House objected to one provision in a massive defense bill that opened the way for lawsuits against the Iraqi government.

The defense bill contains an additional pay raise for the military and Congress is expected to quickly fix the problem, either with a veto override vote - that would probably fail - or by removing the offending provision.

House Democrats are planning a vote the following week on overriding Bush's second veto of legislation to expand the federal child health insurance program. The bill passed by a veto-proof margin in the Senate but enough Republicans in the House have stuck with Bush to stop an override there.

Such legislative exercises had numerous precedents in 2007, when presidential vetoes - or veto threats - and Republican filibusters in the Senate blocked Democratic-proposed legislation or forced major changes.

Democrats claimed several successes in their first year in power, including raising the minimum wage, boosting fuel mileage standards for cars and small trucks, increasing security at seaports and airports, reducing student loan interest rates and requiring stricter mental health checks for gun purchases.

The Senate returns Jan. 22 to deal with a particularly divisive issue, renewal of a six-month law defining electronic surveillance powers. The law is due to expire Feb. 1.

?365Gay.com 2008

with files from The Associated Press

http://365gay.com/Newscon08/01/011408con.htm

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