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Iowa senate
passes LGBT rights bill

Iowa senate
passes LGBT rights bill

Iowa's state senate passed a bill Monday to extend civil rights protections to gay, lesbian, and transgender people in the state, despite opposition from business interests.

The bill adds sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected characteristics under Iowa's Civil Rights Act. Democrats have long supported expanded protections, and they now control the senate, the house, and the governor's office.

The chamber passed the bill on a bipartisan 32-17 vote. It moves now to the state house of representatives, where Iowa Equality board president Sandy Vopalka expects it to have a tougher time.

Among the civil rights bill's opponents of record were the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and Meredith Corp., the Des Moines-based owner of 12 TV stations and publisher of 26 subscription magazines, including Family Circle,Ladies' Home Journal, and Better Homes and Gardens.

Meredith lobbyist Jim Carney told on Tuesday that that stance was "a mistake" arising from miscommunication, and that Meredith, going forward, will take a "monitoring or neutral" stance on the bill.

"We traditionally take a neutral statement on these types of bills, these social-action bills," said Art Slusark, Meredith's vice president of corporate communications and government relations. "In any case, I think it's moving along pretty well."

Meredith includes sexual orientation in its corporate nondiscrimination policy. "We don't discriminate," Slusark said.

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry's board has "unanimous feeling" that firms should take the lead in not discriminating but is concerned about liability in case of lawsuits, association president Mike Ralston told The Des Moines Register.

"That's a poor excuse for failing to stand up for fairness. It's shortsighted, too," the Register said Sunday in an editorial favoring the rights bill. Iowa needs nondiscriminatory policies to attract talent and money to the state, the editorial said.

Vopalka is already lobbying house members on the legislation. "We have 14 districts we're working on," she said. "I've been up there for the past four years as a volunteer to push this thing."

If the bill becomes law, Iowa would be the 19th state to ban workplace bias based on sexual orientation and the 10th to have some protection regarding gender identity either through statutes or court rulings, according to Lambda Legal. The legislation has passed each chamber previously, but in different years.

Among the groups favoring the measure are the Iowa League of Cities, the American Civil Liberties Union, and various labor unions, including the United Steelworkers of America. (Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)

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