Vote on Trans Inclusive State Human Rights Bill Delayed
[CHICAGO, IL] - A coalition of activists and lobbyists working on the state gay-rights bill agreed last week not to call the bill for a vote in the Senate Executive Committee when they realized they did not have the votes to pass the measure. The decision means the bill will remain alive during the remainder of this legislative session and into the fall veto session, where it will have a better chance of passing.
Equality Illinois (EI) Political Director Rick Garcia said the decision was made in a meeting with key political sponsors and organizations including EI, the ACLU, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Howard Brown Health Center, the Governor's Commission on the
Status of Women, and others.
But Garcia said despite the delay, history was made when the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce endorsed the bill for the first time. Garcia said Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood helped convince them to support adding gays to state human-rights coverage. Garcia was also excited that LaSalle Bank not only backed the bill, but Mary Laraia, LaSalle senior vice president for community development, lobbied for the measure.
"If stodgy old bankers can support this legislation, why can't you," Laraia said when lobbying the senators.
LaSalle has had progressive workplace policies for years, Laraia said. "Having a workplace where people don't have to feel that it's their choice whether they want to talk about sexual preference or not, rather than feeling they have to hide it, is important. We find people feel when there is non-discrimination in the workplace, it's a better place," she said.
"It seems to me that if a bank, and banks are
conservative by nature ... if banks can find this as easy and straightforward as we did, it seems like anybody can. It's not an action that has huge negative consequences. In fact it's an action that is easy and has positive consequences," Laraia said.
"We never had two major business groups and
businesses come down and work it," Garcia said. Others have endorsed the issue of gay rights, but have not actively lobbied for it. State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka played a key role with LaSalle, he said.
All of the state's constitutional officers except Attorney General Jim Ryan had their legislative staff at the meeting. Ryan, who is the Republican nominee for governor, in the past has backed the bill, but is now trying to court the party's right wing so he is staying away from what he perceives are controversial issues.
Supporters needed seven votes in committee, but they could count only four strong "yes" votes...all Democrats. All the Republican members last year voted unanimously to ban discrimination against those who ride motorcycles, noted Garcia. "Not one will vote for the bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Maybe some of them need to be asked how they reconcile their vote protecting the Hell's Angels and their refusal to protect gay and lesbian families."
Garcia said all of the Republicans on that committee feared retribution from Pate Philip, head of their party in the senate and an opponent of gay rights. One Republican told Garcia, "Well I have no problem, I would vote for it, but I don't want to make my boss mad." Another told Garcia, "Two times I disagreed with my leader on the bill, and both times he has taken me off the committee."
Garcia said Philip and others know that if the bill did get out of committee, it would pass in the full Senate. "We need 30 votes, and we have 33-35 votes sitting there today," Garcia said.
The bill has returned to the Rules Committee, and supporters are looking for other bills to possibly attach it to. The governor's office also supported the vote delay, allowing time to strategize over the summer and during the fall veto session. Gov. George Ryan, a lame-duck governor, has used his final months in office to strongly back gay rights, not fearing a backlash at the polls.
Both Laraia and Garcia expressed an optimism that the time is very near for passage of the bill.
"I felt rather encouraged," Laraia said. "Several of the senators expressed an almost 'we're there' optimism that seemed to me wasn't there a few years ago. A lot said this year maybe, but for sure next year this will get a fair hearing."