Utah senator urges hearing on proposed nondiscrimination law
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Steve Urquhart taped a blue note to the large, wooden doors of the Utah Senate chamber Friday that read: Hear SB100.
SB100 is the St. George Republican's proposed statewide nondiscrimination law that some don't want debated this year because they say it could hurt the state's case to overturn Judge Robert J. Shelby's ruling that allowed same-sex marriage in Utah.
"There's talk currently that all bills dealing with LGBT issues should go away this session. I understand that for bills that are reactionary to Judge Shelby's decision," he said in a news conference. "Nondiscrimination legislation has nothing to do with same-sex marriage. It has nothing do with Judge Shelby's decision."
The Senate uses blue notes for people to send messages to lawmakers on the floor. Urquhart urged residents to come to the Capitol and use the notes to call for his bill to be heard.
GOP leaders in the House and Senate have suggested putting a hold on bills related to religious freedom and antidiscrimination. But Urquhart said Senate leaders have "absolutely not" pressured him to squelch his legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said earlier this week and reiterated Friday that "rhetoric" surrounding the nondiscrimination bill could hurt the state's appeal of Shelby's ruling.
Urquhart said it's unknown if that would affect the outcome.
"If that is the case, I would just suggest my colleagues be bridled, be controlled in what they say," he said. "Let's hear this bill and not show animus when we discuss it."
SB100 would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and employment. College dormitories, religious organizations or businesses owned by religious organizations and businesses with fewer than 15 workers would be exempt from the law.
It would not prevent an employer from requiring workers to dress and groom or use restrooms, shower facilities, or dressing rooms that are consistent with the employee's gender identity. Urquhart said it would not affect public school bathrooms or student housing at BYU.
Urquhart said there has been some "intentional misrepresentation" of what the law would do.
The Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy think tank that opposes the SB100, admitted Thursday that one of its television ads targeting the bill was wrong. The ad suggested that private universities like BYU would have to allow men to live in women's housing.
Sutherland president Paul Mero said he made a mistake and issued an apology in a blog on the organization's website. Two other ads continue to run which say a nondiscrimination law would give special rights to some people at the expense of others.
In his blog post, Mero argues that the law isn't needed because there is no widespread discrimination against LGBT individuals.
He cites an Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel memo from last November showing there were only three complaints in Utah's 18 cities and counties that passed nondiscrimination laws since 2009. All three were in Salt Lake City and were unsubstantiated after investigations.
Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said SB100 is unfairly lumped in with bills related to the same-sex marriage case and deserves to be heard on its merits.
"It really is separate from the court decision and the Amendment 3 case," she said. "This is a very important piece of policy for a vast majority of Utahns."
This is the sixth year in a row that a nondiscrimination bill has been filed at the Legislature. Last year, Urquhart's measure cleared a Senate committee but was not debated on the floor.
Utahns overwhelmingly favor a statewide nondiscrimination law, according to a Deseret News/KSL poll this month.
The survey found that 72 percent of residents say Utah should make it against the law to fire someone from a job solely because they are gay or transgender. It also showed that 67 percent favor a law that would make it illegal to deny a person housing solely because they are gay or transgender.
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