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Utah Legislature: Gay rights legislation truce may be in trouble

Republicans question a proposed study on discrimination

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 3 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

A truce on gay rights legislation this session may be in trouble.

House and Senate Republicans were balking Tuesday at a compromise announced late last week on a controversial bill extending employment and housing anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians statewide.

The agreement called for no action to be taken on that or any other gay rights-related bills, including efforts to undo similar anti-discrimination ordinances recently passed by Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County with the support of the LDS Church.

Instead, the issue of whether Utah's gays and lesbians face discrimination in housing and employment was to be sent to an interim committee for further study and possible recommendations for action by the 2011 Legislature.

It's the proposed study that apparently is causing majority lawmakers to question the truce — even though it's an election year for most of the Legislature and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told lawmakers it did not want to see the ordinances overturned.

"There was a general feeling of frustration," Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said after the truce was raised during the Senate GOP's closed-door caucus Tuesday afternoon.

The meeting ended without an agreement from senators on abiding by the truce. "We're still working on that," Jenkins said. "If that gets out from around us, you can tell we're not successful."

House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, said GOP leaders in the House and Senate discussed the truce in a joint meeting Tuesday morning. It did not come up during the House caucus.

"In the end, we thought it best that we do nothing. We don't take the side of going one direction," Clark said, of either passing a state law similar to Salt Lake City's anti-discrimination ordinances or holding off action on bills attempting to halt those protections.

"We really need some time to pass. Maybe we should study this," Clark said.

But he said an interim study should not be forced upon lawmakers, either.

Clark said if the Senate were to pass a bill outlawing the city and county ordinances, the House would consider it like any other bill.

So far, no such legislation has surfaced. But several lawmakers have so-called "protected" bill files open to draft legislation that likely would be affected by the truce.

Senate Majority Whip Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, has been working on a resolution reaffirming the traditional family, as has Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

Niederhauser said he was willing to hold off on his resolution, even though he intended to "be careful not to come out in an offensive way against the gay and lesbian community."

He said he supported a "cooling off period" on gay rights-related legislation but did not see a need for the interim study.

"I'm not sure what kind of deal-killer that is on the truce," Niederhauser said. The study, he said, "could end up being what we avoided in the session, just a lot of controversy."

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said he has a protected bill that would, in effect, disqualify the city and county ordinances.

Even before the truce was announced in a press conference Friday, Sandstrom said he had decided to hold his bill for the time being because of uncertainties with the issue and more pressing matters — not any agreement.

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