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Proposed statewide anti-discrimination law on ice for this year

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 2:32 a.m. MDT

Senate Republicans put the final nail in the coffin of a proposed statewide nondiscrimination law Wednesday, at least for this year. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Senate Republicans put the final nail in the coffin of a proposed statewide nondiscrimination law Wednesday, at least for this year. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Senate Republicans put the final nail in the coffin of a proposed statewide nondiscrimination law Wednesday, at least for this year.

GOP senators "resoundingly" decided to keep SB100 and bills related to religious freedom from coming out this session, said Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe. The vote came in a closed caucus meeting Tuesday.

Okerlund said Sen. Steve Urquhart's measure would be held in the Senate Rules Committee, which assigns bills to standing committees for discussion and votes.

"Of course, I think it should go forward. Unless there is a significant change, the bill probably won't go forward this session," said Urquhart, R-St. George. "We weren't able to make our case this year."

Last week, Urquhart urged Utahns to tape blue notes to the Senate chamber doors calling for the bill to be heard. The doors were plastered with dozens of notes the next day.

Republican Senate and House leaders have said since the legislative session started two weeks ago that lawmakers should hold off on nondiscrimination and religious freedom bills pending the state's appeal in the same-sex marriage case. They say discussion surrounding those bills could affect the court decision.

"There's an environment that we don't understand yet," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, referring to the case in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It would be imprudent for us to discuss what we're going to do with religious liberties and the discrimination bill until we know better what the environment is going to be," Niederhauser said. "That will help us create the best policy for Utah."

The state late Monday filed its opening defense of Utah's voter-approved amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down the law in December.

"Unfortunately, I guess, for SB100 the issue was intensified by Judge Shelby's decision," Niederhauser said.

The bill would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and employment, specifically for housing complexes with four or more units and businesses with 15 or more employees. College dormitories, religious organizations or businesses owned by religious organizations would be exempt from the law.

A version of the bill has been proposed for six years in a row, including Urquhart's first attempt last year. His bill cleared a Senate committee in 2013 but didn't make it to the floor.

Urquhart said Republican legislators don't want to talk about any issue related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community until the court case is decided. But "these are some of the most pressing issues of today," and the Legislature shouldn't shy away from important policy discussions. He said he intends to bring the bill back next year.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said nothing is stopping Utah's local governments from passing similar anti-discrimination ordinances, but the state won't be taking action on the issue.

"I just don't see that that will happen," Lockhart said.

The frustration over the Legislature shelving bills seen as potentially impacting the state's Amendment 3 case wasn't limited to the anti-discrimination bill, said House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

"There were a number of religious liberties bills as well," Hughes said. "There were a lot of bills, not just this one, where sponsors were excited and wanted to see those bills have hearings."

House Majority Assistant Whip Don Ipson, R-St. George, said as an employer himself, he is willing to hire whoever is qualified for a job.

"In my mind, that's not an issue," Ipson said of workplace discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

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