The problems of state Sen. Chris Buttars are now working their way into the Utah House.
Friday morning, House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, said there is little appetite in the House to deal with Buttars' SB267, a bill that would stop Salt Lake City's attempt to set up a domestic registry. The registry can help employers determine domestic partner status for health care and other benefits, as well as provide for hospital visitation.
The bill is still in the Senate awaiting debate on the floor and Curtis said it should stay there. In other words, the Senate should kill it.
Independent of any concerns by Curtis or House Republicans, a new poll by the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV finds that 53 percent of Utahns want SB267 to be defeated that is, let the city's domestic registry stand. Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found that only 28 percent of Utahns want Buttars' bill to pass.
"It is not so much the subject of the bill. It is the sponsor of the bill connected with the subject," said Curtis, who did not know about the poll's result when interviewed by the newspaper Friday morning.
Buttars, R-West Jordan, is at the heart of a public uproar, which includes a call from the Utah chapter of the NAACP to resign, over some comments he made in on the Senate floor last week. In debating a school district-splitting bill, Buttars referred to the bill being a black baby, and that baby was a dark and ugly thing.
That criticism continued Friday in the Capitol Rotunda, when a group of approximately 30 people watched a half-dozen poets recite pieces dealing with racism, discrimination and specifically Buttars.
It was organized by a pair of University of Utah professors, including Matt Bradley, who called Buttars "the poster boy for racism and discrimination" in his opening statement.
Rightly or wrongly, Curtis said, Buttars is seen as a bigot by a number of Utahns. For the House to act on what many see as an anti-gay-rights bill sponsored by Buttars even though others see it instead as a protection-of-marriage bill is not wise.
"If it had some other sponsor, I'd say bring it over and we'll have a debate," in the House. "Not with this sponsor," Curtis said.
Curtis said Buttars' problems are problems for the Senate and should be dealt with in the Senate, not in the House.
That's disappointing to Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem.
"This bill should be looked at by its merits, not by its sponsor," Valentine said. "I would hope that the House is going to look at bills based upon their merits."
Senators are split on the best way to combat the registry, Valentine said. Some want to approve the bill and patch up current law to ban such domestic partnership registries, but others want to kill the bill and let the courts rule that the registry is unconstitutional.
"We're now getting into tactics," Valentine said. "If you believe the ordinance is somehow violating those constitutional principles, do you look at another statute or bring a test case? There are some senators in my own caucus that believe it's the best strategy to encourage someone in Salt Lake City to bring litigation."
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he doesn't now have an official position on whether the registry is constitutional or not, since no one has asked for an opinion from his office. Still, the Legislature should back off and let the courts do their job to decide on the constitutionality of issues.
"Why does the Legislature need to get involved here? Why do they need to pass another bill?" Shurtleff told the Deseret Morning News on Friday.
Shurtleff said he "wouldn't be surprised if someone sues Salt Lake City. Let them defend it."
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said that he is confident that the registry, which will be up-and-running sometime in March, will pass legal muster.
"Our lawyers are very confident that Salt Lake City is on rock-solid ground and if someone wants to challenge, then that's their prerogative," Becker said.
Will Carlson, spokesman for the gay rights advocacy group Equality Utah, said he welcomed the news that the House will likely kill the bill if the Senate doesn't because the city would have some leeway to create the domestic partner registry.
"If the city has time to act to implement the registry, people are going to see it's not as scary," he said.
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said Curtis' message is the opposite of what she's heard. -->Attempts to contact Buttars for comment were unsuccessful.
Contributing: Deborah Bulkeley