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Heller critical 60th vote for Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Updated Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 | 9:43 a.m.

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Dean Heller

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., announced this morning he will support federal legislation to prohibit employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The announcement comes as a victory for the gay, lesbian, and transgender community, which had been pushing the legislation and needed a crucial 60th vote to advance the bill past a legislative hurdle in the Senate. Heller is that 60th vote.

“After listening to Nevadans‚ concerns about this issue from a variety of viewpoints and after numerous conversations with my colleagues, I feel that supporting this legislation is the right thing to do,” Heller said in a news release this morning.

Heller joins four other Republicans in supporting the legislation. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the Senate’s other 54 Democrats also support the bill, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Heller's announcement earned him praise from the bill‚s supporters.

"Senator Heller's support for ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) reaches the critical 60-vote threshold and shows the tremendous momentum we have for passing this common-sense bill," said Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign president. "After hearing from his constituents, business leaders and a host of other supporters, he joins a growing bipartisan coalition that we now know will make history this week."

The Human Rights Campaign, gaming and resort companies like Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, and large labor unions like Culinary Local 226, representing casino workers, endorsed the bill and encouraged Heller to sign on.

Additionally, Nevada’s Democratic-controlled state Legislature passed a bill in 2011 that made it illegal in Nevada to discriminate against an employee for reasons of gender expression or identity.

Nevada’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, signed the legislation.

The state earlier added employment protections for people on the basis of their sexual orientation, making Nevada one of 17 states to enact standards that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would apply nationwide.

“Under the leadership of this Governor, as well as the legislature over the past several years, Nevada has established a solid foundation of anti-discrimination laws,” Heller said in his statement. “This legislation raises the federal standards to match what we have come to expect in Nevada, which is that discrimination must not be tolerated under any circumstance.”

Reid’s office expects the bill to come before a full vote of the Senate this week.

The bill, however, could be dead-on-arrival in the Republican-controlled House.

Republican Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, released a statement this morning announcing his opposition to the bill.

"The Speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email Monday.

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