Salt Lake business leaders are calling for a statewide law banning hiring and housing discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender individuals — a move supporters see as a major boost for a bill that has languished in the conservative Legislature.
“We just feel when it comes to [nondiscrimination] we need to have it on a statewide basis,” Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce President Lane Beattie said Thursday. “We feel it’s an unwise policy to have it just limited to certain cities where they end up with a patchwork of follow-through on such an important issue.”
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, sees it differently.
“That’s a great argument. I completely disagree,” he said. “I think it’s a local issue. I think each community should implement what’s best for their community. On an issue like this, I think mandating that La Verkin have a similar ordinance to Salt Lake when their community values may be diametrically opposite … I think that’s further than we ought to be.”
Salt Lake City adopted Utah’s first nondiscrimination ordinance in 2009 with the backing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since then, 12 other local governments have adopted similar policies.
But efforts to take the ordinance statewide have fallen flat in Utah’s conservative Legislature. Last session, Salt Lake City Sen. Ben McAdams was unable to even get his bill a committee hearing. McAdams has said he plans to bring his bill back this year.
Paul Mero, president of the conservative Sutherland Institute, said the chamber’s logic is flawed.
“As a matter of business, I don’t see the connection between homosexuality and a vibrant economy,” Mero said. “And if there is a connection for some unfathomable reason, money isn’t the measure of everything.”
Ultimately, he said, supporters of the nondiscrimination policies are simply trying move the state toward legalizing gay marriage.
Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said the business community’s support bolsters the argument the group has been making that anti-discrimination ordinances are good for economic development.
“I certainly can’t speak for legislators or what their intentions are with regards to this policy this year, but I do feel very positive about our chance of passage this year,” she said.
Balken said supporters of the nondiscrimination law spent the past year meeting with business owners and property owners, particularly those who already have their own discrimination policies and found that the policies have had positive effects.
The chamber’s endorsement “really supports the economic development argument of these fair-minded policies,” she said.
A Tribune poll last year showed that two-thirds of Utahns supported a statewide anti-discrimination law. Balken said her group has done polling that puts the number at three-fourths.
Other highlights in the Salt Lake Chamber’s 2012 Public Policy Guide:
Implement national E-Verify system for new workers in businesses with more than 15 employees. Penalties are appropriate for consistent violators.
Extend in-state tuition to undocumented students.
Modernize Utah liquor laws, but retain state control of wholesale distribution.
Reinstate federal tax incentives on natural gas and natural-gas vehicles, expand conversion of state fleet to natural gas.
Invest $16 million in the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative.
Oppose “unproductive ‘message bills’ ” that hurt the state’s image.
Invest in maintaining current highways.