- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - As Utah lawmakers enter the second week of their session, advocates for religious protections and LGBT rights will be watching for any movement on legislation to protect those rights.

The Mormon church made a national appeal Tuesday for laws that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination while somehow also protecting people who assert their religious beliefs.

In Utah, where most residents and lawmakers are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the historic announcement could propel a stalled anti-discrimination measure at the statehouse.

Here’s a look at what may play out on that issue and others in the week ahead:


While the church didn’t endorse any specific legislation or detail exactly where laws should draw the line between gay rights and religious freedoms, two Utah lawmakers say they believe the announcement may help an anti-discrimination bill pass this year.

Salt Lake City Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis, who was raised Mormon and is openly gay, and St. George Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart, who is sponsoring the anti-discrimination bill, said Tuesday that the church sends a clear signal to their colleagues. Urquhart’s bill, which would ban discrimination in housing and employment, already includes exceptions for religious groups.

It’s unclear what changes, if any, the bill would need to get the church to support it, as the church did in 2009 when Salt Lake City passed a similar anti-discrimination ordinance. Urquhart and Dabakis said they plan to work to find a compromise.

Urquhart’s bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, but advocates will be watching in the days and weeks ahead to see if it changes or another bill emerges. Provo Sen. Curt Bramble, who had planned in the past to sponsor a compromise bill, said Friday that he has not renewed that effort in light of the church’s announcement.


A measure to raise income taxes in Utah is scheduled to get its first formal consideration from lawmakers Monday afternoon.

The proposal from North Logan Republican Rep. Jack Draxler would raise Utah’s 5 percent individual income tax to pay high-performing teachers more money. Draxler’s original proposal would raise the tax to 6 percent, an increase of more than $176 million in the upcoming budget year and about $726 million the year after that. Draxler’s already drafted a replacement bill to scale back the increase, leaving the rate at 5.5 percent. It may still be an uphill climb for Draxler to get the Republican-controlled Legislature’s support - especially House and Senate leaders who’ve signed pledges to oppose any and all efforts to increase taxes.


The list of possible locations for a new state prison may grow next week. A state commission studying the relocation of the Utah’s main prison meets Friday afternoon and is scheduled to discuss any new sites they’d like to consider.

Thurs far, the Prison Relocation Commission has been studying three sites in Tooele, Salt Lake and Utah counties, and it agreed to accept any suggestion for new sites through January. Residents and local officials have opposed each of the three spots that have been announced, citing concerns that a prison will hamper development and hurt home prices. The commission plans to recommend a final site or two to lawmakers this year.

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