A genetic nondiscrimination bill scheduled for a House vote today has hit a last-minute hiccup that is part of the reason the noncontroversial measure is being considered under a rule requiring at least two hours of floor debate.
The bill passed the Senate on a 95-0 vote last Thursday. Earlier this week, the Bush administration asked for changes making it easier for the armed forces to identify human remains.
"The bill does not allow employers to require genetic testing. But the [Department of Defense] does require genetic testing of DNA so we can identify remains," said House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, the bill's lead sponsor.
The bill already makes exceptions for law enforcement's forensic investigations, and a separate House resolution has been drafted to fold a human remains exception into that language, according to a Senate GOP aide who helped draft the bill.
But Republicans say the bill should be considered under suspension of House rules, a procedure taking minimal floor time reserved for consensus bills.
"They basically have to fill time," said Rules ranking member David Dreier of House leaders. "It should be a suspension. I'm voting for it. We're all for it. Who could be opposed to that? It's just further demonstration of their ineptitude at running the institution."
Last year, a similar genetic nondiscrimination bill passed the House under suspension of the rules on a 420-3 vote.
Sponsors of the Senate bill expected their version to pass early this week, perhaps on a voice vote. Late Friday, before the administration's Pentagon problem surfaced, House Majority Leader Hoyer announced that the bill would be considered at the end of the week and would be subject to a rule.
"What we wanted to do was get it as quickly as possible," said Slaughter. "There are so many people that worked in this house on that bill, and we know it affects everyone alive. ... So I'm happy to have a rule so we can talk about it."
Slaughter also dismissed the notion that the bill could be approved on a voice vote. "They never give us [unanimous consent] on anything," she said.
The bill would prohibit employers and insurers from discriminating against individuals based on their genetic makeup. It is expected to pass the House overwhelmingly today and be sent to President Bush in short order for his signature.
The resolution containing the human remains change, along with technical changes involving insurance commissioners, is expected to pass the Senate on its own.
This article appears in the May 3, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.