Committee votes on transgender bill
Redrafted bill involving AG, MCAD seems to be moving
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
MARKING A POTENTIAL BREAKTHROUGH on the issue, the long-awaited Judiciary Committee vote on transgender rights legislation has commenced, with House Speaker Robert DeLeo expressing confidence that a redrafted bill will protect transgender individuals from harassment and give businesses clear guidance to implement the proposal.
The bills being polled in committee Friday would ban discrimination against transgender people in public spaces, and would allow transgender individuals to use the public restroom or locker room that matches their gender identity — the most controversial aspect.
According to committee co-chairs Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont and Rep. John Fernandes of Milford, the panel opened polls on a Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz bill (S 735) and a redrafted House bill.
The House redraft, based on a bill (H 1577) sponsored by Reps. Byron Rushing and Denise Provost, directs the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination to adopt regulations or formulate policies and make recommendations “to effectuate the purposes of this Act.”
It would also require Attorney General Maura Healey’s office to “issue guidance or regulations for referring to the appropriate law enforcement agency or other authority for legal action any person who asserts gender identity for an improper purpose.”
“This bill is the result of extensive conversations with members, advocates, and the business community,” DeLeo said in a statement. “I am proud that through these discussions, the House has strengthened this important piece of legislation, and I particularly want to thank Chairman Fernandes. It is my belief that the provisions related to the Attorney General and MCAD will help prevent transgender individuals from being harassed and ensure that businesses have the guidance they need to properly implement the law.”
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said this week that the Senate tentatively plans to debate the issue May 12, and affirmed that timetable in a statement on Friday.
“I am glad to hear the Joint Committee on the Judiciary plans to release the Senate and House Public Accommodations bills,” Rosenberg said. “The Senate has been prepared to debate this since November, and we will go forward as planned on May 12th with our debate. It is imperative that legislators get a bill to the Governor’s desk as quickly as possible to end discrimination under the law for all transgender individuals. I thank Senate Chair Will Brownsberger, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, and the other members of the committee for their leadership in moving this bill forward.”
Gov. Charlie Baker has declined to state his position on the bill, frustrating its supporters and forcing lawmakers to take into consideration the potential that he might veto the legislation. Most recently he has said “people should use the restroom facility they feel comfortable using.”
Fernandes said he has not spoken to Baker about the bill, but added: “I think this language is consistent with some of the statements he’s made relative to his thoughts on the bill. He’s wanted to see the language. We think this language should help in his deliberations on this as well. And that’s where we’re at at this point.”
Fernandes said he’s aware that some believe his panel has been sitting on the bill, but said the legislation has received considerable attention in committee, including work over the past year to research transgender laws in other states and the experiences in those states.
Fernandes has practiced labor law, including discrimination cases, and said protected classes and businesses want “clear and consistent bright line rules.”
“I have a sense of how this stuff plays out in the real world,” he said. “The consistent thing that seemed to come to us was that guidance would be helpful in all of this.”
He said he believed the language directing MCAD and the attorney general’s office to play roles in establishing rules and protecting against asserting gender identity for an improper purpose had strengthened the bill and addressed concerns of opponents and lawmakers who have been undecided about whether to support or oppose the bill. “This goes a long way to address those concerns,” he said.
Even with the additional language, he said, “I’m one hundred percent comfortable that the intent and the integrity of the underlying bill is intact in total.”
Said Brownsberger: “The bill being reported to the Senate side is the original text without alteration. The version being reported to the House side includes some additional language, which we have not yet had the opportunity to fully vet. It is just emerging today. However I do believe the language is responsible and intended to provide additional guidance without weakening the fundamental protections of the bill.”
Brownsberger said that MCAD, under the original bill, “had the authority to make regulations to effectuate the purposes of the act. The House bill goes just one tick further and requires them to issue regulations and specifically to address when and how gender identity may be evidenced. It asks for some additional clarity about the concept of gender identity to be developed through regulations. It also adds language requiring the attorney general to issue guidance about how people should respond when they believe someone is asserting a gender identity for an improper purpose, basically just sort of faking it to get into the wrong place.”Brownsberger said the House version of the bill also adds the effective date of Jan. 1, 2017.
Aside from Brownsberger and Fernandes, the committee includes Sens. John Keenan, Chang-Diaz, Patricia Jehlen, Cynthia Creem and Richard Ross, and Reps. Claire Cronin, Colleen Garry, John Velis, Michael Day, Jeffrey Roy, Evandro Carvalho, Carlos Gonzalez, Paul Tucker, James Lyons and Sheila Harrington.