Saturday, January 30, 2010

Domestic partnership benefits for federal employees: legislation reaches the House floor for likely consideration

As I mentioned last week, the House Oversight and Government Committee favorably reported an amended version of H.R. 2517, the "Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009." The Committee report is now available here, and, beginning at page 24, you will find the Committee's reasons for adopting the legislation. (These include "a more equitable work environment," and better recruitment and retention - reasons cited by state and local governments that adopt such laws. See, for example, why North Carolina's Mecklenburg County recently adopted its domestic partnership law for county employees.)

In the latest development, H.R. 2517 has been "discharged" from two other House committees to which it was referred - the Judiciary and Administration Committees. The discharges mean that these Committees have sent H.R. 2517 to the House floor without reporting on it.

House members typically petition for discharges on the floor of the House when legislation would otherwise remain stalled in committee. In such cases, a majority of House members must sign the petition. If the House then approves a discharge motion, any member may move for the House to take up the bill at issue. This procedure (described here) appears to have been used to bring H.R. 2517 to the floor. Because it involves appropriations, House rules allows unrestricted opportunity to amend the legislation. I am doubtful that the latest version of H.R. 2517, as reported by the Oversight Committee, will escape further amendment, if - or rather when - the House in this election year considers the legislation. Incidentally, I can not explain why the House Judiciary Committee did not report on the bill, except to speculate that Chair John Conyers, Jr., could not forge a majority consensus among Committee members.

I readily admit that I am new to the discharge procedure. If I have erred, I welcome correction from any reader with expertise. (Moreover, I am far from convinced that I am right about my "Conyers speculation." A phone call to his office might clarify the matter.)

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