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Common Ground Bills Pass Rules Committee

All remaining bills in Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative, as well as a bill that would let same-sex couples adopt children, passed out of Senate and House Rules Committees early on Feb. 13.

The two remaining Common Ground bills include House Bill 267 by Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, that seeks to grant workplace and housing antidiscrimination protections to gay and transgender people. The second, House Bill 160 by Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, would allow two unmarried adults with shared assets and liabilities to make a declaration of joint support that would give them inheritance and medical decision rights.

Although not part of the Common Ground Initiative, the gay adoption bill, House Bill 288 by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, is also endorsed by Equality Utah.

“This is fantastic progress from even last year,” said Will Carlson, the local gay right’s groups Manager of Public policy. “Now it’s going to be clear we can communicate the issues, which is further than we’ve ever been able to go before.”

Both Johnson and Chavez-Houck’s bills came up during the 2008 legislative session. However, the House Rules Committee did not pass out either of them. A committee made up of Representatives and Senators, however, heard testimony on Johnson’s bill during the summer.

The two rules committees serve as gatekeepers for all proposed legislation. Once they have approved a bill, it is sent to a standing committee made up of Senators or Representatives which oversee a particular aspect of Utah law (such as transportation, health and human services, or education). The standing committees then hear public testimony on the bills and vote whether or not to release them to the Senate or House floor for debate.

The Common Ground Initiative is a set of four bills and one policy change aimed at securing more rights for gay and transgender Utahns. The initiative is so named because it seeks to find “common ground” with the LDS Church on rights for gay people that do not include legal marriage.

In 2008, the church said that it did not oppose such rights as workplace and housing protections, probate rights and civil unions for gay couples.

So far this session two pieces of Common Ground legislation have been struck down. On the second day of the session, Salt Lake Democratic Sen. Scott McCoy’s Senate Bill 32, which sought to allow financial dependants not related by blood, adoption or marriage to sue if a breadwinner dies due to medical malpractice or negligence, died in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee on a vote of 4-2.

Earlier this month, Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City, pulled House Joint Resolution 2, which sought to clarify Utah’s constitutional marriage ban by striking language forbidding the legal recognition of civil unions. Biskupski told the Salt Lake Tribune that she withdrew the controversial bill in order to give other Common Ground Initiative bills a better chance at passing.

For more information on the Common Ground Initiative visit equalityutah.org.

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