Two conservative Democrats helped Senate Republicans derail the latest attempt by the Washington State legislature to pass a gay civil rights bill, sending it to a hostile committee where it is likely to die.
The senate's procedural move took majority Democrats by surprise, coming during floor action Tuesday on noncontroversial bills. The Democrats hold a 26-23 advantage, but the move succeeded when conservative Democrats Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch joined Republicans in shunting the bill off to the senate judiciary committee.
The critics argued that the bill should never have been routed through the senate financial institutions, housing, and consumer protection committee, which approved the legislation last month. The house passed the bill in February, 61-37. "The actions taken today are stall tactics against a bill that is seeking to ensure that principles of fairness and justice are available to everyone under the law," Rep. Ed Murray, the bill's sponsor, said in a written statement. "This will not stop our efforts. This bill is long past due."
The bill, which would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in jobs, housing, and insurance, has been introduced--and rejected--annually for nearly 30 years in the legislature. Sheldon said that people in his blue-collar district don't support the bill, adding, "I'm representing their wishes."
Senate GOP floor leader Luke Esser of Bellevue said Tuesday's move was just a procedural one, noting that when the bill came up in past years, it was before the senate judiciary committee. Esser had tried earlier to get the bill moved to that committee but failed. He acknowledged that while he doesn't support the legislation, that doesn't mean other Republicans wouldn't vote for it if it eventually got to the floor. "This was just a matter of sending the bill to the right committee," he said.
But the action was widely viewed as a killing motion. Since Hargrove sits on the judiciary committee, the 5-4 advantage held by Democrats is evaporated, and the Republicans can keep the bill bottled up.
Further, it's already past the deadline for senate committees to approve house bills.
Another Democratic member of the panel, Sen. Marilyn Rasmussen of Eatonville, also said that even though she voted against the procedural move, she might oppose the bill. She said she is afraid that the bill, as written, leaves the door open for gay marriage. "The bill goes way too far," she said.
Presuming the bill dies in committee, the only other option left for backers would be to find two Republicans to cross over and pull the bill back to the floor for a vote. "The reality is, it's not over," said senate majority leader Lisa Brown. Sen. Darlene Fairley, chairwoman of the panel that previously approved the bill, said Tuesday's vote was disappointing. "Discrimination is that important to them? I find that extremely sad," she said.
Gov. Christine Gregoire has said she would sign the measure into law if the legislature passes it. Gregoire's legislative director, Marty Brown, said the governor was "very disappointed" with what happened but noted that the bill could still make it to the floor. "Nothing's ever dead until they go home, but it makes it a lot harder," he said.
Democratic senator Brian Weinstein, vice chairman of the judiciary committee, said he thinks moderate Republicans would rather the issue not come up for a vote because they don't want to be on record going against their party, but they also don't want to be on record voting against the measure that may be supported in more liberal districts that they serve.
"In the next three weeks there will be high drama," he said. "We may be able to get one or two of them...but it's clear to me that they don't want to vote. We're going to do everything we can to make sure it does come up for a vote." (AP)