House passes bill to strike Missoula ban on discrimination against gays

2011-02-23T19:53:00Z 2011-02-24T00:11:13Z House passes bill to strike Missoula ban on discrimination against gays

Gazette State Bureau

The Billings Gazette
February 23, 2011 7:53 pm  • 

HELENA — On a final vote, the House on Wednesday passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would effectively repeal Missoula's 2010 ordinance banning discrimination against city residents based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

House Bill 516, by Rep. Kristin Hansen, R-Havre, won final House approval by 62-37. It passed debate-stage approval Tuesday by 60-39.

The measure will now go to the Senate for a hearing and later action. HB516 would prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances or policies that seek to protect residents from real or perceived discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender as Missoula did through an ordinance. These classifications are not included in the Montana Human Rights Act.

Missoula adopted the ordinance and set an enforcement mechanism through its municipal court that is outside the Montana Human Rights Act, Hansen said.

“It sets up a separate judicial process for businesses in Missoula that is outside the realm of the Human Rights Act, but only on three specific classifications,” Hansen said in an interview Wednesday. “When the state of Montana sets up a procedure for the resolution of claims — for all discrimination claims — then all discrimination claims should go through that procedure.

“The process set up by the city of Missoula, I think, grants unprecedented authority to the Missoula municipal court with no appellate process built in, so if a business is taken to court in Missoula and loses, what are they supposed to do?”

However, some HB516 opponents argued that Missoula, under its charter form of government, legally can adopt ordinances like the anti-discrimination ordinance.

Asked why she, as a legislator from Havre, introduced HB516, Hansen said the Montana Family Foundation asked her to look at it, probably because she's an attorney and can look at it from a legal perspective.

The Montana Family Foundation has opposed what it calls “the homosexual agenda.” In 2004, it led the successful effort to put a constitutional amendment on Montana's ballot to ban same-sex marriages. Voters approved it, 67 percent to 33 percent.

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