HELENA - The Republican majority on the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Monday that would effectively overturn Missoula's 2010 ordinance banning discrimination against city residents based on their sexual orientation and gender.
House Bill 516 by Rep. Kristin Hansen, R-Havre, now moves to the House floor for debate this week.
It would prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances or policies that seek to protect residents from real or perceived discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender as the cities of Missoula did through an ordinance and Bozeman did through a policy.
The panel voted earlier Monday to table HB514 by Rep. Edie McClafferty, D-Butte, which would have broadened the Montana Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination statewide based on gender identity or expression and sexual orientation. The move to table her bill came after the bill was rejected 14-6.
The state Human Rights Act now prevents discrimination based on age, marital status, national origin, physical or mental disability, political beliefs or ideas (in case of governmental services and employment rights only), race and color, religion and sex (including pregnancy, maternity and sexual harassments).
The committee's votes on both measures followed party lines, except that Rep. Liz Bangerter, R-Helena, joined Democrats in opposing HB516.
Afterward, Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network criticized the committee's decisions on the two bills.
"They have essentially made it clear that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Montanans are not equals and that they believe the LGBT people do not deserve the same protections as anyone else," he said.
During committee discussions, there was little debate on either bill, with Democrats doing most of the talking.
Before the vote on the McClafferty bill, Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, spoke out for the bill.
"As an out member of the lesbian community, you may never have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation, but I have," she said, adding. "In many ways, I am not your peer. I am probably the only person - well, not in this room - who can be asked to leave a restaurant, denied housing, refused to be allowed into a hotel simply because of sexual orientation.
"It is a fact that I am not protected under the law. You can go ahead and vote against this bill, which I know you will, but that's a fact, and I want to you to know the face of a person who's affected by it and it's me."
During the discussion on Hansen's bill, Sands told the committee that passing HB516 would encourage discrimination.
Hansen didn't speak Monday, but at the hearing Friday she said, "The crux of my testimony today is that I believe the Montana Human Rights Act pre-empts the city of Missoula from doing this."
Rep. Michael More, R-Gallatin Gateway, said Monday, "Are you going to do things in one city different than another city? We try to put things in contexts of the whole."
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.