LGBT rights bill to get public hearing in state Senate

Gay marriage flag

An Alabama Senate committee is planning to hear from the public on a bill to offer employment protections for the LGBT community. Senate Bill 482 would ban state officials from discriminating against employees based on sexuality and gender expression, in addition to of race, ethnicity, or religion. The bill does not apply to private sector employers.

Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh,  said that he sees the LGBT rights bill as an economic development issue after hearing concerns from businesses considering moving to Alabama. “We want to dispel any thoughts that we’re not a state that protects all people,” Marsh said.

Dispelling that perception, according to Sen. Marsh, means that a proposal to give officiants the right to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies may not pass the Senate.

“What I do not want to do is have a perception that Alabama is attacking any group,” Marsh told reporters after the committee meeting. “I don’t expect those other bills to come to the floor.”

Marsh also said timing would be a factor in getting any measures on LGBT discrimination passed this session. Senate Bill 482 was introduced Tuesday and the Senate Governmental Affairs committee met Thursday to discuss the bill.

Sen. Dick Brewbaker said the quick turnaround leaves little time for concerns from both sides to be properly considered.

“People who want to have a say didn’t get notice,” he said. “We have to let people have their say.” He later added, “The committee can vote with 48 hours notice. There’s no need to wait until next Wednesday.”

Brewbaker and others also expressed concern about the language in the bill, saying that the state could not offer protections to state employees, but not recognize protections for employees in the private sector.

The narrow scope could mean that Senate Bill 482 is unconstitutional, according to Sen. Phil Williams.

“You can’t separate classes,” said Brewbaker. “You can offer protections to state employees and not another.”

Another bill in the House would apply to all employers. House Bill 615 sponsored by Rep. Chris England is in the House judiciary committee and has not been scheduled for a vote.