The Maryland House of Delegates and Senate last week successfully passed, by large margins, their own versions of two bills containing pro-equality provisions that will benefit members of the Free State’s LGBT community. All four bills — two from the House and two from the Senate — will now “cross over” into the opposite chamber, where they will again be considered and voted upon. If passed, both bills will head to Gov. Larry Hogan for his signature into law.
The first pair of bills, sponsored by Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery Co.) and Terri Hill (D-Baltimore, Howard counties), require insurance companies to provide coverage for infertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization. Both measures also contain provisions that cover same-sex couples seeking to become pregnant as well as heterosexual couples. Both bills also passed along largely partisan lines, with support from mostly Democrats. Kagan’s bill passed the Senate, 37-10, with five Republicans voting in favor and one Democrat voting against. Hill’s measure passed the House 94-44, with six Republicans voting in favor, one Democrat voting against and another Democrat not voting.
In an interview with Metro Weekly, Kagan noted that she and her allies collaborated with insurance companies in drafting the proposed law, as the insurance companies realized that they could face potentially costly litigation defending themselves against charges of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender. There is already one case pending, and more could result if the issue was not sufficiently resolved, meaning it was in companies’ best fiscal interests to seek clarification as to what treatments they are required to cover.
“I am committed to equal protection and equal opportunity,” Kagan said of her reasons for sponsoring the bill. “Our state has recognized that marriage can be between two lesbians, who can also have trouble conceiving, and deserve the same benefits. Policyholders all pay the same premiums, and they deserve equal treatment.”
Kagan also added that, should the House and Senate bills pass the opposite chambers as expected, she is drafting a letter to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and his staff to make sure they understand the policy implications of the bill, and the fact that it is narrowly crafted and tailored to address and clarify what the responsibilities of insurance companies are when it comes to covering infertility treatments.
“It seems to me that this governor has expressed his intent to be open-minded,” Kagan said. “It is my hope and expectation that he will sign the bill.”
The second pair of bills, sponsored by Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery Co.) and Susan Lee (D-Montgomery Co.), would, if passed, allow transgender individuals to obtain new, unmarked and unamended birth certificates reflecting their correct gender. In order to qualify, applicants for a new birth certificate reflecting their gender and, in some cases, new name, must submit written proof from a medical practitioner attesting to the fact that the person has undergone medically appropriate treatment for gender dysphoria. The bill does not require that the individual undergo surgery, which can be cost prohibitive, particularly for lower-income residents. Moon’s bill passed the House, 85-50, with four Republicans voting in favor, six Democrats voting against, and three additional Democrats and one Republican not voting. Lee’s version of the bill passed the Senate 31-16, with no Republicans voting in favor and two Democrats voting against.
Kagan and Lee’s measures will both be heard by the House Health and Government Operations Committee on Thursday, April 2. Moon’s and Hill’s counterpart bills will be heard by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, April 7. Because the bills are identical in scope, both are expected to pass in both houses by similar margins. It will then be up to Hogan, as chief executive of the state, to decide whether to sign the bills into law or veto them, forcing the General Assembly to have to override his veto. An override would require three-fifths of members of both chambers, or 29 votes in the Senate and 85 in the House.
A spokeswoman for Hogan’s office said that the governor is reviewing both bills, but has not yet taken a position on either.
Reflecting on the victory of the birth certificate in the House, Moon, a longtime progressive activist known as the force behind the Maryland Juice blog, expressed confidence that he and his legislative allies would prevail, noting that the political stigma once associated with LGBT issues appears to be, in his words, “rapidly dissipating.”
“It is an overwhelming statement that the transgender and intersex birth certificate legislation passed by veto-proof margins in both the House and Senate,” Moon said. “Though Maryland has proven itself to be forward thinking on civil rights, we weren’t sure how this effort would be received. Remember that this year nearly 40 percent of our House members are freshman lawmakers who had never taken a vote on transgender issues, let alone any others. The vote was also bipartisan, as a few GOP House members joined a supermajority of Democrats — including some representing swing districts — in backing this bill.”
Passage he birth certificate bill would bring Maryland in line with jurisdictions like California, Vermont, New York City and the District of Columbia, all of which have Democratic executives. Similar measures have also been proposed in Connecticut, Hawaii and Colorado, although the any pro-transgender legislation is likely to die in Colorado due to the makeup of the state senate, which is controlled by Republicans. An identical bill to Moon’s passed in New Jersey, but was vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Even so, Moon expressed hope that Hogan would buck his party and do the right thing by transgender Marylanders.
“I’m optimistic that Governor Hogan will sign this bill into law,” Moon said in a statement. “As you may recall, when he took office in January, Hogan repealed some of outgoing Governor O’Malley’s executive orders but quickly reinstated one that included gender identity in Medicaid nondiscrimination provisions. Moreover, since this legislation passed with veto-proof margins, overturning the legislature’s will on these issues would serve no purpose other than to play politics with medical privacy and employment discrimination.”