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Harkin emphasizes employment protections for LGBT workers

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | NOVEMBER 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, invigorated a crowd of supporters and Iowa City residents as he remarked on the difficult fight to pass employment protection for the LGBT community. While some feel the passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act is far from certain to pass in the House, the Senate is heralding the passage of the bill.

“Once in a while Congress can surprise you, and it can actually do some really good things,” Harkin said to the crowd at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St. “Sometimes, we can move America forward in a very positive, progressive direction we need, and that’s what happened last week the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.”

The Employment Nondiscrimination Act of 2013 would protect employees from discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identification and would allow those who feel they have been discriminated against to take their case to court. The bill passed the U.S. Senate, 64-32, on Nov. 7, but now must pass the House before being signed by President Obama.

The act has been proposed every year since 1974, with the exception of 1994, but Harkin feels Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, needs to bring the bill to the floor.

“Now, we have to make our stand … it’s really up to Speaker Boehner … we have to advocate, educate; we’ve got to continue to get our people together to put our pressure on Mr. Boehner,” he said.  “History is on our side; history is on our side.”

Harkin was joined by a Human Rights Campaign board member from Missouri who illustrated some of the challenges LGBT workers face in states without employment protections.

An expert in American politics believes it’s unlikely the House will pass anti-bias bill for a number of reasons, including some of the current issues with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, among other concerns.

“Right now, [passing the bill] doesn’t seem likely, but we will see what happens there,” said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa political-science associate professor, who noted the vote now could be a controversial one, less than a year from the 2014 midterm election.

Harkin noted that 10 Republicans joined every Senate Democrat to support ENDA’s passage.

However, Harkin’s Iowa colleague in the Senate, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was one of those who voted against the bill.

“Churches are exempted, but beyond that, there are a lot of religious-affiliated organizations that might be required to hire people that they don’t believe they should have to hire out of strong religious convictions,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement. “There’s the general issue of just putting more red tape and possible lawsuits before small businesses.”

Joe Hand, a spokesman for Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said the congressman shares Harkin’s belief the bill will pass if it is brought to the House floor.

Iowa and 20 other states have already passed employment protections similar to the anti-bias bill.

Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, said that while he personally supports some of the principles the act includes — and has followed them for his own congressional office — he wants to ensure that the act, like any other bill, won’t open up “a floodgate of unintended results.”

“I personally support the principle that no one should be discriminated against in the workplace based upon race, color, creed, sex or sexual orientation,” Latham said in a statement. “Hiring and firing decisions should be based on skills, job performance, and workforce needs for the employer.”


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