WASHINGTON -- The Employment Non-Discrimination Act could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as next week, according to the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
ENDA would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. When the Senate convened Monday afternoon, Reid formally announced his plans to bring up the legislation during the current work period, which ends the week before Thanksgiving. Reid has long been a supporter of ENDA, cosponsoring it as early as 1997.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced the bill in the Senate on April 25, and it currently has 54 cosponsors. Every single Democratic senator has signed on, with the exception of Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).
"I thank Majority Leader Reid for committing to bring ENDA to the floor this work period," Merkley said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "Americans understand that it’s time to make sure our LGBT friends and family are treated fairly and have the same opportunities. Now it's time for our laws to catch up. People should be judged at work on their ability to do the job, period.”
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are the only two Republican cosponsors, although ENDA's supporters are hopeful that some other GOP senators will vote for the bill on the floor. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) are considered to be possible supporters.
It is already illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, nationality, religion, age or disability, and many advocates view ENDA as the natural next step.
LGBT rights groups have been stepping up their outreach in recent weeks in a push to drum up support for the bill. Freedom to Work launched a Latino voter phone-banking initiative, using bilingual call centers in Arizona and Nevada to target McCain, Flake and Heller.
The Human Rights Campaign, meanwhile, has more than 30 field organizers in New Hampshire, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania mobilized around ENDA. They've held 150 events in these critical states and supporters have written letters, made phone calls and signed postcards to show their support.
And the American Unity Fund, a conservative group that supports LGBT rights and is funded by hedge fund executive Paul Singer, has been quietly trying to convince GOP lawmakers to back ENDA.
The bill has been reintroduced in several Congresses and has gotten some hearings, but it hasn't had a vote on the House or Senate floor since November 2007, when it passed the House 235-184. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) reintroduced ENDA in the House this year, but it's unlikely to be considered in the Republican-controlled chamber anytime soon.
This week, the Senate is largely focused on approving a slate of President Barack Obama's nominees, and a vote on ENDA could be delayed if that fight drags on.