The lead sponsor of legislation that seeks to prohibit discrimination against transgender Marylanders in the areas of housing, employment, and some commercial leasing is still fighting for the bill's passage in the Maryland State Senate, but tells Metro Weekly that success appears unlikely -- and lays the blame at the feet of Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D).
Of Miller's actions in recent days, Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel, Prince George's) said, "It is a tremendous, gross disrespect to the community because he's marginalizing a group of people and basically saying, 'You don't matter, you don't count.'"
Pena-Melnyk, lead sponsor of the bill, talked to Metro Weekly today about Miller's decision to assign the bill to the Senate's Rules Committee, after the Maryland House voted 85-52 in favor of the legislation. Pena-Melnyk said there will be no hearing scheduled for community members to testify against or in favor of the bill, and that she suspects the bill will be killed in the Rules Committee.
"On Saturday, 54 bills passed. On Monday, 40 bills passed the House. So a total of 94 bills," she says.
"There's a rule which says that the bills must pass the 76th day to the other chamber in order to be assigned to a standing committee. What that means is, in order for a bill to be considered timely, it has to pass before that 76th day, which was Monday, March 28, by 8 p.m."
"The Gender Identity bill passed on Saturday, way ahead of the deadline. We did that purposely to be timely. Out of the 94 bills that passed out the House timely, Miller, president of the Senate, killed one bill -- the Gender Identity bill -- and sent it to Rules."
In the past, a similar version of the bill has died four times in the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the bill was expected to go.
"You go to Rules when you're late. So there's no reason why the bill should have gone to Rules, because it passed timely on Saturday. He did it purposely because he wants to kill it. He bypassed our procedures and our rules. It is a tremendous, gross disrespect to the community because he's marginalizing a group of people and basically saying, 'You don't matter, you don't count.' He wouldn't do this to someone else. It is very disrespectful especially because we submitted the bill on time."
Pena-Melnyk said she had scheduled to meet with Miller yesterday. But he did not show. She waited for him for an hour before leaving.
"He refused to see me," she said.
Miller has not returned calls to Metro Weekly seeking comment.
Though she's not giving up the fight to get the bill to a Senate committee for a scheduled hearing, Pena-Melnyk said that she will not be introducing similar legislation next year if the bill dies in the Rules Committee as expected.
"I'm tired," she said. "I gave it my all. Even though I took public accommodations out, there were people in the transgender community who were upset that I took it out and wouldn't support it. Can you imagine, I would have never been able to get it out with public accommodations. You see how the bill is treated. I hope that now they respect the process and understand what it took and how difficult it is to prepare and argue for a bill like this, because the support is not there."
[Photo: Pena-Melnyk (Photo by Yusef Najafi.)]