Once promising, Kolb's LGBT bills fizzle

BY JUSTIN MILLER
Daily Staff Reporter

Published February 14, 2006

Momentum has faded on a trio of bills in the state Legislature to protect the LGBT community.

State Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) introduced the three bills last June.

The first two bills would put "sexual orientation and gender identity" on the list of characteristics protected under the Michigan Ethnic Intimidation Act.

The third bill would add an amendment to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination in employment and other areas.

It looked like Kolb's efforts were paying off last July when he gathered Republican cosponsors for his bills, but since then the situation has appeared steadily more dire.

At the time, Kolb felt confident state Republicans would help the bills' chances to reach a vote - but he has since lowered his expectations.

"I have not given up hope, but right at this moment there definitely is no indication that it is going to get movement," Kolb said.

Matt Resch, spokesman for House Speaker Craig DeRoche (R-Novi), said there are no current plans to address Kolb's bills in the House.

Resch said the House is busy with this year's budget and a high school curriculum proposal.

Kolb said he has asked for formal hearings for the bills, but his requests have gone unanswered.

Legislators shy away from supporting LGBT-related legislation because it could be unpopular with voters this election year, Kolb said.

Kolb introduced similar bills last year when there were no elections, and they also failed to get out of committees. That legislation had no Republican cosponsors and fewer Democratic cosponsors than the current bills.

LGBT advocacy groups have been supportive of Kolb's bills over the past year, but the Triangle Foundation of Michigan - one of the state's leading advocacy groups - has backed away from lobbying on behalf of the hate crimes legislation.

Sean Kosofsky, Triangle's director of policy, said he thought the civil rights bill has a greater chance of getting a hearing than the hate crimes legislation.

"I think the civil rights bill should be the most basic and palatable legislation," Kosofsky said. "I believe if they allowed a vote on it today it would be close."

Triangle has switched its focus to two new bills: one to allow second-parent adoption and another to prevent school bullying.

The second parent adoption law would allow a non-parent to assume custody of a child if the current parent or other custodian is unable to take care of the child. This is especially relevant for gay couples who want to share custody of a child.

The bullying bill - which would require public schools to define, investigate and punish incidents of bullying - has earned support from the governor and some House Republicans.

The bill has gained LGBT support because it would aim to stop all forms of bullying, including gender-related.

Triangle is working to build a coalition of religious leaders, business groups and other community members to press legislators to pass these bills. The organization has also been lobbying legislators.