Lack of votes dooms nondiscrimination bill in Senate

2013-03-12T00:28:00Z 2013-11-22T07:01:51Z Lack of votes dooms nondiscrimination bill in SenateBilly Hesterman - Daily Herald Daily Herald
March 12, 2013 12:28 am  • 

SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill to put in a statewide nondiscrimination law dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity has reached the end of its road.

After lawmakers made history last week passing such a bill out of committee, the proposal faced the harsh reality of the Republican-heavy Senate on Monday as Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, explained there weren't enough votes to pass the legislation.

Niederhauser said the bill had about 40 percent approval in the Senate but said with the little amount of time left in the session it wasn't prudent to allow the bill to have a floor debate since it did not have enough votes to pass. He did state, though, that the Legislature has made progress on the issue even though it essentially faced the same fate as previous, similar bills in years past.

Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, the sponsor of the legislation, was pleased with the bill simply passing out of committee. He said it brought about good dialogue on the topic and he plans to run the legislation again next session.

"We have a lot of work to do before next year," Urquhart said.

Urquhart said many of the concerns expressed from his Senate colleagues echoed the statements made by Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, when the bill was debated in committee. Reid said he would employ or rent a home to a homosexual but he was morally opposed to homosexuality. He said he struggled with the idea of putting nondiscrimination into law because it meant he was approving a behavior he found to be immoral.

Urquhart also said some struggled with creating a special status for a group based on sexual orientation or sexual identity. He said it was his job in the next year to convince them that the issue isn't about a special status but about equal rights for all Utahns.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, the only openly gay member of the Legislature, had teamed up with Urquhart to find a way to pass the legislation this session. Dabakis said his colleagues were supportive and that passage out of committee was a huge step for the bill. He said he was confident that as the Senate learned more about the issue that the idea will one day be put into law.

The LDS Church is also getting some credit for the bill coming to a halt. While the church did not oppose the bill it also did not endorse it. Dabakis said discussions with the church about the topic have been ongoing for more than a year and half. He said the gap was small to earn the church's support for the measure.

"I expect we will sit down again," he said.

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, one of the major drivers of the nondiscrimination legislation, said the end of the bill was not the end of the push for the law. Balken stated her organization will continue to push the issue forward in cities and counties as well as in the state Legislature next session.

It is expected that cities and counties throughout the state will continue to entertain proposals for similar protections within their boundaries, a practice favored by Gov. Gary Herbert. However, Balken pointed out a statewide nondiscrimination law would have more teeth in it as it would provide for individuals to regain their employment or to be put back in their housing if they were evicted for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

-- Billy Hesterman covers the Utah State Legislature and local politics for the Daily Herald. You can follow him on Twitter at: @billyhesterman
Read more from Billy Hesterman here.

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