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Bill Gates discusses Microsoft controversy with lawmakers

Bill Gates discusses Microsoft controversy with lawmakers

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has urged Washington State's congressional delegation to push for policies that improve worker training, relax immigration limits, and increase trade with China and other countries. He also said Thursday that a controversy over gay rights legislation in the state caught him by surprise, adding that the company plans more dialogue to address concerns from employees and other critics. Gates declined to comment after the closed-door meeting at the U.S. Capitol but said he was happy to greet home-state lawmakers during an infrequent visit to Capitol Hill. "It's good to meet with people," he said in a brief interview as he was hustled to a waiting car. "I'm not going to comment about what we discussed." Lawmakers showed no such hesitation, saying Gates covered a wide range of topics during the nearly hour-long session, including education, trade, energy, and the company's stance on gay rights. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant was one of the first companies to extend benefits to the partners of its gay employees but has been criticized in recent days for failing to support a proposed gay rights law in the Washington State legislature this year. Critics say Microsoft caved to pressure from a local pastor who threatened to launch a nationwide boycott over the issue and that the company then tried to tiptoe away from a bill it had previously supported. The measure failed in the Washington State senate last week by a single vote. Asked about the controversy by Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington State, Gates told lawmakers that gay rights was simply not part of Microsoft's legislative agenda for the year. Gates said the company will continue to have discussions on the issue and will move to address concerns that have been raised, lawmakers said. U.S. senator Maria Cantwell, also a Democrat from Washington, said she was disappointed at the way the controversy has emerged--especially given Microsoft's lengthy record in support of gay rights--but was satisfied with Gates's answers. "They have a huge portfolio" of issues that are important to the company and cannot be expected to push all of them at the same time, she said. The other U.S. senator from Washington, Democrat Patty Murray, said she was reassured by Gates's promise that Microsoft is looking at ways to "revisit" its decision about taking a neutral stance on the gay rights bill it had once championed. The company said it took that stand so it could focus on a shorter list of issues, such as computer privacy, education, and transportation. "I take him at his word," Murray said. (AP)

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