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Senate President Michael Waddoups backs halt to anti-bias bills

SALT LAKE CITY — Senate President Michael Waddoups said Thursday he's behind a moratorium on any new local government anti-discrimination ordinances aimed at protecting gays and lesbians.

"I'm comfortable with the status quo so we can see how the Salt Lake City ordinance works," he said. "I'd hate to see at this point a lot of other entities … trying to put in different nuances, pushing to other areas."

The Taylorsville Republican said he intends to take the issue to a GOP caucus today in the hopes of finalizing the details of a truce on gay rights-related legislation.

"I don't want this to be a distraction," Waddoups said after a private meeting with the co-sponsors of the truce announced last week, Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake, and Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

"I gave them information to think about," the Senate president said of his backing the moratorium. "I caught them kind of cold."

Johnson, one of two openly gay Utah lawmakers, declined to discuss what Waddoups proposed at their meeting but said she was encouraged.

"It's a very neutral and palatable option but one that still needs deliberate consideration," she said.

Waddoups opened a bill file Thursday titled "Local Government Ordinances Amendments" but said he is holding off on drafting language unless the bill is needed.

Although GOP senators have been complaining about the federal government overstepping its bounds, Waddoups said the state has the right to tell local governments what they can and cannot do.

Local governments, the Senate leader said, are simply subdivisions of the state and have powers "only as delegated by the state."

The one-year moratorium would be an addition to a compromise announced Jan. 29 postponing action on any gay rights-related legislation until the 2011 Legislature. This is an election year for most lawmakers.

There were a number of bills both for and against gay rights expected to surface this session, including efforts to overturn the Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County ordinances. Johnson had been planning to carry a bill extending housing and employment protections to gays and lesbians statewide.

As part of the agreement, Johnson and Stephenson announced they would co-sponsor a bill calling for an interim study of the need for such protections.

Both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have already passed ordinances extending those protections, with the support of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Senate Majority Whip Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said any study of the issue should also be put off for a year. "I think everybody would like a similar end here," he said, "that we deal with this at a later date."