Two Measures Securing Rights Of Gay Employees Introduced In Congress

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 3285/S. 1705) – a measure
that would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual
orientation – was re-introduced Oct. 2 in the Senate, with 44 original
co-sponsors, and Oct. 8 in the House, with 177 co-sponsors. Lead
sponsors are: Sens. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., James Jeffords, I-Vt.,
Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Reps. Barney
Frank, D-Mass., Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and
Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif.

At the end of the 107th Congress, ENDA had a record number of bipartisan cosponsors and reached a legislative milestone when the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions marked up the legislation and reported it favorably to the full Senate. The legislation passed the committee on a bipartisan vote. Unfortunately, it was never scheduled for consideration by the full Senate prior to adjournment.

The enactment of ENDA is long overdue. ENDA continues to enjoy strong
support among the civil rights, labor, faith and business communities.
Also, 85 percent of the American public favors equal opportunity in
employment for gays and lesbians. ENDA and other potential related
workplace discrimination legislation remain a high priority for HRC in
the 108th Congress. HRC has been actively pushing for increased
co-sponsorship and pursuing any available vehicle to which we can attach
and move this important legislation through the legislative process.

As an important note, HRC lobbied for the inclusion of gender expression
and identity in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act prior to its
introduction. However, as introduced, ENDA would not protect a
transgender employee from being discriminated based on his or her gender
identity or expression. HRC and a leading group of GLBT litigators and
activists are in the process of drafting legislation that would address
this form of discrimination. We will continue to work with our allies to
develop a new bill that will address discrimination against the entire
GLBT community.

The second bill is the Domestic Partner Health Benefits Equity Act (S.
1702). This important measure would end the taxability of domestic
partner health insurance benefits and treat them the same as health
insurance benefits for spouses and legal dependents – was also
introduced in the Senate on Oct. 2. Lead sponsors Sens. Gordon Smith,
R-Ore., Bob Graham, D-Fla., were joined by original sponsors Sens.
Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and
Jon Corzine, D-N.J.=20

Employers who provide health benefits to their employees typically pay a
portion of the premium – if not the entire premium. Currently, the tax
code provides that the employer's contribution of the premium for health
insurance for an employee's spouse is excluded from the employee's
taxable income. An employer's contribution for the domestic partner's
coverage, however, is included in the employee's taxable income as a
fringe benefit. Therefore, an employee who is able to get domestic
partner benefits for their partner is then taxed on the value of those
benefits, often resulting in thousands of dollars being added to their
taxable income at the end of the year. This legislation seeks to end
this unfair and burdensome taxation.

Similar legislation was introduced in the House last February by Rep.
Jim McDermott, D-Wash. This legislation, HR 935, would amend the
Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend the exclusion from gross income
for employer-provided health coverage for employees' spouses and
dependent children to coverage provided to other eligible designated
beneficiaries of employees, which would include domestic partners.

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