BOSTON >> Faced with a caller who cited the concern among transgender rights supporters that his reticence on legislation to extend non-discrimination protections in public places to transgender individuals could signal that it would be doomed if it were to ever reach his desk, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday again declined to take a stance on the controversial bill.
During his monthly appearance on WGBH's "Boston Public Radio," a man named Joe called in and talked about his young transgender son, Jacob, and asked the governor to explain his thoughts on the bill.
"I tend not to comment directly on pending legislation for a lot of reasons, the main one is legislation has a funny tendency of changing over the course of the process of moving through the Legislature," Baker said. "The best place for me to be most of the time is to say, you know, 'I'll review it when it gets to my desk' because if I say anything other than that I may end up letting somebody down who thinks my position is going to be A and it turns out my position is B because stuff changes as it works its way through the process."
Baker said he met with a group of transgender adults and children within the last two weeks and they "talked through a whole bunch of the issues associated with this," and he reiterated his belief that no one in Massachusetts should be discriminated against for any reason.
Asked by host Jim Braude why he doesn't give lawmakers some guidance so they might send to his desk a bill that he could reasonably sign, Baker said he favors a hands-off approach to complicated topics in the Legislature.
"The best position for me to take, and this is on complicated issues like this one, is to let the Legislature do its work. That's what it's there for, that's what it does," he said. "This is an issue that is before the Legislature, as Joe points out, and I'm sure they're giving it the due process that it deserves, and we'll see what happens."
A majority of the state's congressional delegation this week wrote to legislative leaders to press House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to bring the transgender non-discrimination bill to the floor before the Legislature recesses next week.
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg supports the transgender protection bills, but has not said whether there is sufficient support in the Senate to pass the public accommodations protections. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has not come down on either side of the debate, and on Monday did not list the bill as among those the House would take up before formal sessions end for 2015 next Wednesday. Such sessions resume in January.
Last Wednesday, Baker said, "I've met with folks who've told me stories about individual incidents, but as I said, I don't believe anybody should be discriminated against, and if anybody is we have a court system in Massachusetts that I believe can stand up for them," Baker told reporters after an event in the State House.
In a letter Monday in response to an inquiry from Rep. Paul Tucker, Attorney General Maura Healey wrote, "Over the past few days, some have suggested that our current laws already protect transgender people from discrimination in places of public accommodation. Let us be very clear: Massachusetts law does not adequately protect transgender people from discrimination in places of public accommodation. Never in our state's history has a court extended protections under our public accommodations law to a transgender person."