Legislators hold off studying expansion of anti-bias rulings
Anti-discrimination ordinances adopted by Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County are safe -- at least for 2010.
But lawmakers won't be diving into a yearlong study of whether to expand such protections in housing and employment statewide to gay and transgender Utahns in 2011.
On Friday, Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, and Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, announced a compromise on the compromise Johnson unveiled a week ago with Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.
Democrats are dropping their pro-gay-rights bills (including adoptions for unmarried couples and extending anti-discrimination protections statewide), and Republicans are standing down on anti-gay-rights bills (ones that would kill existing anti-discrimination statutes or stop other cities and counties from passing their own).
Last week, Johnson and Stephenson touted a study bill as a way for both sides to gather information on anti-discrimination ordinances inside and outside of Utah so they could return in 2011 better prepared.
But Waddoups, who called last week's announcement "premature," said Senate Republicans fear such a bill would undermine the concept of a moratorium on all bills related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Johnson agreed Friday to drop the study.
Both Waddoups and Johnson expect information-gathering to take place informally during 2010.
"We have decided, as the Republican Senate caucus, that we would like to see [Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County anti-discrimination ordinances] work for a year and see if there are problems," Waddoups said. "We've taken a position as a Senate that there will be a moratorium on all bills for, against [or] dealing with this issue."
Johnson said she expects House leadership to take up the issue at its Republican caucus Tuesday. But, Waddoups said, the Senate will not be entertaining bills on the issue, regardless of their chamber of origin.
Waddoups, who had considered sponsoring a bill to block other cities and counties from passing anti-discrimination ordinances until the Legislature weighs in, said he hopes local governments will hold off. Park City and Summit County have started discussions on adopting such measures.
The Senate president said he has a "message" for all Utahns.
"Our citizens shouldn't be doing things that are discriminatory. If they are -- and if that's the information we gather during the next year -- that will push legislation to deal with that in that direction," Waddoups said. "If the LGBT community are doing offensive activities in a public setting, that will push legislation in the other direction."
When asked what he considered to be "offensive activities," Waddoups said, "I don't know, anything that would draw us into drafting legislation [against the LGBT community]."
Jacob Whipple, a gay activist who has led gay-rights rallies in Salt Lake City, said Waddoups shouldn't expect LGBT Utahns to be quiet.
"In other words, he wants us to shut up and sit down and quit rocking the boat," Whipple said. "The LGBT community should be as loud and as visible as necessary so that all of our stories and our hurts and our needs can be displayed for the people of Utah so the proper legislation will be enacted."
Whipple maintains there is enough information available -- 21 states, including Colorado and New Mexico, bar discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation -- for Utah to pass an anti-discrimination law now.
Johnson has said she hopes to build on the collaborative spirit that led to widespread support, including a key endorsement by the LDS Church, for Salt Lake City's ordinances.
"I'm very hopeful," she said Friday, "that this [moratorium] really sets a precedent for us being able to have dialogue on these issues rather than heated battle."
Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, backs the moratorium. Her group plans to gather public feedback on anti-discrimination measures and continue to work with local governments to pass such statutes.
"Of course we would like to see [anti-discrimination protections] passed statewide," she said. "We [also] believe that communities ... should be able to decide whether they want to enact local protections."
Pre-emption » Five bills reportedly were in the works that would have weakened or overturned Salt Lake City's and Salt Lake County's anti-discrimination ordinances. One would have blocked other cities and counties from passing similar statutes.
Anti-discrimination » Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, planned to push a statewide ban on housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. She also won't run a bill to study the issue in 2010.
Wrongful death » Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, shelved his bill to allow same-sex partners and other financial dependents to sue when a breadwinner suffers a wrongful death. Currently, only spouses, parents and children can.
Adoption » Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, dropped her three-year fight to restore adoption rights for unmarried couples, including gay and lesbian pairs.
Military service » Johnson won't sponsor a resolution urging the president and U.S. Congress to end "don't ask, don't tell," which bans openly gay service members.
Several anti-gay and gay-rights bills were in the works for this year's legislative session. See which bills were dropped in the compromise. › A12