- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The House Committee on Appropriations voted Wednesday to block the District from using tax dollars to implement a law that bans employers from discriminating against workers based on their opinions or use of birth control or abortion.

The vote marks the second time that House Republicans have sought to block the District from enforcing the law, which D.C. Council members say will combat workforce discrimination.

Language to restrict use of local and federal funds to implement the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act was inserted into a funding bill — a practice known as a budget rider — before the appropriations committee.

Rep. Steven Palazzo offered the amendment arguing that the D.C. law would force religious institutions to violate their beliefs.

“Under this misguided law, any employer or employment agency could be forced to violate their closely held religious beliefs,” said Mr. Palazzo, Mississippi Republican. “A Catholic school could be required to hire a teacher that publicly advocates for the use of abortion as a birth control option. Although legally, that teacher has every right to share their opinions publicly under the First Amendment, no religious organization should be required to hire someone who actively advocates against the tenants of that organization’s moral beliefs.”

Last month, the Republican-controlled House passed a disapproval resolution in an attempt to block the D.C. law. The Senate failed to take up a similar measure, and the law was allowed to go into effect on May 2.

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Lawmakers in the District, where 75 percent of voters are Democrats, said the law would extend protections to workers by banning employers from discriminating against employees based on their personal decisions or opinions regarding reproductive health care.

Conservative critics said the bill would illegally require organizations to provide insurance coverage of abortions and other reproductive health care procedures regardless of whether they violate the organizations’ religious beliefs.

After the original bill was passed, the D.C. Council adopted additional legislation to clarify that the act “shall not be construed to require an employer to provide insurance coverage related to a reproductive health decision.”

City lawmakers were infuriated by the Wednesday’s actions.

“It is beyond comprehension why Members of Congress would condone discrimination in any form,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said in a statement. “That’s what this is about, and bigotry has no place in America in the 21st century.”

If the House budget rider is adopted as part of the full federal spending plan, it is unclear how the provision would block the law. Unlike other actions currently blocked by riders, such as the District’s spending money to pay for abortions for low-income women or to set up a regulatory framework to oversee the taxation and sale of recreational marijuana, the act does not require the government to take action to enforce the provision.

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Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, said Wednesday that she will force a vote on the House floor to remove all budget riders included in the D.C. appropriations bill in an effort to remove the reproductive health act rider as well as others that prevent the city from spending money on needle exchanges, abortions or further legalization of marijuana.

“No member will get a free pass, including Rep. Steven Palazzo, for violating his or her own cardinal Republican local control principles,” Ms. Norton said.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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