Statewide anti-bias bill gets first committee hearing
[[UPDATE: Story has been updated to show new hearing room: 30 House Building]]
A statewide nondiscrimination bill will see its first committee hearing on Thursday, March 7, 4 p.m., Room 30 in the Utah House Building of the Utah State Capitol Complex. If passed, the bill would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Utah. There are 16 municipalities with similar ordinances.
The bill will face strong opposition from conservative groups, such as the Utah Eagle Forum, said its president, Gayle Ruzicka, in a public caucus meeting sponsored by Sen. Jim Dabakis. While she said she does not believe people should discriminate they should maintain the right to do so.
“Does it work to pass a law to tell people they can’t discriminate? If you really want to fire someone, you’ll find a way to do it,” Ruzicka said. “We have the anti-discrimination ordinances in many communities but there’s a difference between a community ordinance and a statewide law. You talk about this being equality for all people. But there are already exceptions, so where do you draw the line? What about religious people? We need exceptions too.”
Despite the opposition, Equality Utah representatives are still hopeful about passing the bill. Sen. Steven Urquhart, R-Washington County, is sponsoring Senate Bill 262 and the first committee hearing is in the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.
“I cannot be more clear. I want this bill to pass. So we’re going to do everything we can to accomplish that,” Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken said.
This is the fourth year the bill protecting against bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity has been proposed. While similar bills have been unable to receive the necessary votes to move out of committee and receive a vote by the entire body of the Senate or House, this year is different, Balken said. For the past six months, Equality Utah has worked with various politicians and lobbyists, including Republican lobbyist and former Speaker of the House Greg Curtis, to ensure the bill has enough votes to pass.
“This is going to be a squeaker. We’re going to need all the votes we can get,” she said.