Thursday, February 28, 2008
I Can't Believe It's Not Buttar(s)
Once again, Utah Senate targets domestic partnership registry
By Derek P. Jensen
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 02/28/2008 06:15:37 AM MST
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker may have dodged Chris Buttars, but now more Capitol Hill cohorts are ganging up on their former colleague.
A bill unveiled Wednesday - sponsored by all 21 Senate Republicans - would doom Becker's newly adopted domestic-partnership registry in the name of preserving Utah's ban on gay marriage.
It also would, the city attorney insists, gut the capital's 2006 adult-designee ordinance, which provides health-care benefits for city employees' domestic partners.
And Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, the chief sponsor, says he was not influenced by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who said this week that the state has no place "overreaching or micromanaging" local government.
"I obviously disagree," Bell said.
Despite negotiations to narrow its scope, Bell's SB299 is no weaker than the now-banished registry bill written by Buttars, the beleaguered West Jordan conservative. Such is the contention of City Attorney Ed Rutan and Becker, who says both Salt Lake City measures are an attempt "to eliminate discrimination in the city."
"If that is the concern, that the domestic-partnership registry violates Amendment 3, then maybe they should just have a statute that says a domestic partnership is not equivalent to marriage," said Becker, a former Utah House minority leader. "But don't prohibit us in Salt Lake City from providing benefits to our employees and our residents."
Bell argues the primary purpose of SB299 is to block "marriage look-alikes" from usurping the voter-approved Amendment 3.
"It did symbolically," he said about the registry. "Whether it did constitutionally is an open question."
Bell also contends the bill safeguards the capital's adult-designee ordinance. "That was their big deal, so we're hoping that we're preserving that," he said.
But language in the measure recognizes "financially dependent" adults while the city rule stipulates financially "interdependent" - a major distinction, Rutan warns. SB299 also protects the ordinance only if health benefits "are not otherwise available to the designee," which of course, they are - albeit at extravagant costs.
"That basically negates the whole point of the program," said Rutan, adding that he is "very frustrated" by the persistence of the Legislature to tie the registry to Amendment 3.
"We haven't seen any written opinion from any judge that says that," Rutan said. "If it goes to court, I believe that we would win."
The anti-registry bill may not be as warmly received in the Utah House, a point not lost on the Senate.
Asked why he would need 20 Republican co-sponsors, Bell said "we wanted to present a united front."
Becker, who maintains SB299 would strip benefits from a number of city employees, may be looking to Huntsman for a potential veto.
"He was firm about the state stepping into the shoes of Salt Lake City," Becker reminded. "And I agree with his statement."
When asked previously if he would veto an anti-registry bill, the governor doubted such a measure would reach his desk.
"It might," Huntsman said, "but I just don't think it will."
* THOMAS BURR contributed to this story.
* SB299, sponsored by Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, is scheduled for a 7 a.m. hearing in Capitol Room 250.
* The Senate Retirement and Independent Entities Committee, which includes Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, is co-chaired by Majority Leader Curtis Bramble, R-Provo.