The Senate's first out member is expected to serve on the committee that oversees the legislation that has become one of the last rallying points of the LGBT-rights movement.
Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin's (D-Wisc.) assignment to the committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions for the 113th Congress was approved today by the Democratic Steering Committee.
The HELP committee has primary jurisdiction over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which, if passed, would prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Baldwin was also named to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Domestic Partnerships Benefits and Obligations Act. DPBO, which Baldwin was a sponsor of in the House, would grant the same-sex spouses of federal employees the same benefits enjoyed by their straight colleagues, including health insurance and government pensions.
Although the committee assignments must be approved by the full Democratic caucus before the passage of a resolution by the Senate in January, advocates lauded Baldwin's appointment as giving voice to a piece of legislation that has faced decades of setbacks.
"We congratulate Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin on her selection to the Senate committee that will move ENDA forward. She has been a tremendous champion for workplace fairness, and we are thrilled that she will bring her powerful voice to the upcoming debate about whether all LGBT Americans deserve a fair shot at the American dream," said Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida in a statement.
Almeida, who helped draft portions of ENDA as former lead counsel for the proposed legislation for the House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, added that Baldwin's appointment left his organization hopeful that ENDA would finally move out of committee and receive a vote on the Senate floor.
"Republican Senators on the HELP Committee are so uncomfortable in openly opposing ENDA that not a single one showed up to the hearing on the bill earlier this year to state their opposition. It will be even tougher for some of those Republican Senators to oppose ENDA when they have to look Senator Baldwin in the eyes while voting against giving LGBT Americans a fair shot to hold a job and build a career," Almeida added in an email to Metro Weekly, arguing that Baldwin's voice has a "real shot to persuade some undecided Senators."
Human Rights Campaign spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said the nation's largest LGBT-rights organization is looking forward to working with Baldwin on these key pieces of LGBT legislation.
"The appointment of Senator-Elect Tammy Baldwin to serve on key committees with jurisdiction over LGBT equality legislation is welcome news," Cole-Schwartz said in a statement.
ENDA remains one of the last major battles for the LGBT-rights movement. Legislation similar to ENDA has been introduced in Congress since the 1970s and faced continuous opposition from Republicans.
In a statement following the committee assignments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid noted that the Democratic caucus is "more diverse than ever," with a record 16 female senators.
Reid added, "These committee assignments will allow all members of our caucus to bring their unique talents and expertise to bear as we work together to advance the interests of the middle class."
[Photo: Tammy Baldwin (Courtesy of Tammy Baldwin for Senate).]