Tuesday, January 27, 2009

First Common Ground Initiative Bill Shot Down: Utah Senator Chris Buttars' Committee Votes 4-2 To Kill SB32, The Wrongful Death Amendment Bill

The first Common Ground Initiative bill to receive a legislative hearing got shot down in committee on January 27th, 2009. In a mildly surprising development, the Utah State Senate's Judiciary Committee, chaired by District 10 Senator Chris Buttars (pictured at left), voted to kill SB32, Senator Scott McCoy's Wrongful Death Amendments bill, by a 4-2 margin. Story published in the Salt Lake Tribune

Voting against the bill were Sens. Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan), Lyle Hillyard (R-Logan), Mark Madsen (R-Tooele), and Mike Waddoups (R-Taylorsville). Voting in favor were McCoy (D-Salt Lake) and Senate Minority Whip Ross Romero (D-Salt Lake). Double-dipping Senator and Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner (R-Ogden) did not vote.

A standing-room only crowd listened to two hours of testimony for and against the bill before the committee, but in the end failed to convince the committee. SB32 would have amended state law so that financial dependents - besides spouses, parents and children - could sue if a breadwinner suffers a wrongful death. While it would have benefited same-sex couples, it would have also applied to other nontraditional households, such as one in which a grandmother relies on a grandson for financial support. Unlike spouses, parents and children, a wrongful-death designee would have to prove a financially dependent relationship with the victim to go to court.

SB32 was part of the Common Ground Initiative being pushed by Equality Utah to expand legal protections offered to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Utahns. Not only does it includes bills to prohibit discrimination in employment and housing based solely on sexual identity, but also a bill which would water down the language of Amendment 3 to permit civil unions, thus making it look like a Trojan horse for gay marriage. Two recent polls show Utahns lean somewhat favorably towards some degree of same-sex protection, although they are strongly against any modification of Amendment 3, which defines marriage strictly as between one man and one woman.

In what has to be the understatement of the day, the Deseret News opines that SB32's defeat does not bode well for the other bills of the Common Ground initiative, although McCoy said the other bills will still be pushed this session. McCoy also said he plans to introduce the bill again in the 2010 session.

Analysis: Doesn't bode well? Heck, it almost guarantees the remaining Initiative bills are dead on arrival. This was a relatively mild bill which would have benefited non-gay partnerships. If this one couldn't pass muster, you might as well write off the others.

Organized opposition to the bills has come from three different groups. First, Gayle Ruzicka and the Constitutional Defense of Marriage Alliance have taken the field against the Initiative. Ruzicka is also involved with Eagle Forum Utah. Second, the Sutherland Institute wants Utahns to stand on "sacred ground" instead. In an interesting twist, the Sutherland Institute will counter the Common Ground Initiative with their own "Sacred Ground Initiative", a counteroffensive aimed at defeating the remaining gay-rights measures.

A third group not mentioned by the Salt Lake Tribune is United Families Utah, which is running a petition campaign to defeat the gay-rights measures. Click HERE to sign their petition. This battle isn't over until all Common Ground measures are defeated.

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