Assembly Moves to Prohibit Bias by Private Clubs

Times Staff Writers

The Assembly, falling in step with the U.S. Supreme Court, the state Franchise Tax Board and some private corporations, has begun moving for the first time to end discrimination by private clubs.

Legislation by Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles) that would prohibit state tax deductions for business expenses at clubs that practice discrimination was approved Monday night by the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee--the first time in a decade that such a bill has been approved.

There is still resistance among some lawmakers, however, as was evident Tuesday when Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Tarzana), author of a companion bill that would revoke the liquor licenses of these clubs, was forced to postpone a vote in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee.

Needs More Time

Friedman acknowledged that he did not have enough votes to win passage of the measure but said he hopes to round up sufficient support by the next committee hearing.

The two measures are aimed at ending the exclusive membership practices of all-male, all-white clubs that often include influential business and civic leaders among their members.

Versions of both proposals have languished in the Legislature since the 1970s but have been revived this year and promoted with new fervor by women and civil rights activists.

The California State Clubs Assn., representing about 120 clubs around the state, has consistently opposed the legislation, arguing that private clubs have a constitutional right to freedom of association. Some club members who have lobbied behind the scenes have been effective in keeping the bills bottled up, lawmakers say.

Supreme Court Decision

Advocates of legislation to end discrimination were spurred on by a Supreme Court decision earlier this month barring Rotary International from ousting local chapters that admit women as members.

Over the last year, corporations like Atlantic Richfield Co. have decided that they will no longer reimburse executives for membership dues in discriminatory clubs.

And in April, the Franchise Tax Board adopted a regulation similar to the Moore bill that would prohibit club members from claiming as state tax deductions any expenses at clubs that discriminate on the basis of sex, race, age, religion or national origin.

The board is expected to give final approval to the rule next month, although such a rule would be superseded by Moore's bill if it is enacted. Meanwhile, some officials have questioned whether the board has the legal authority to adopt the regulation without legislative action.

Approved by Committee

Moore's bill was approved in the Revenue and Taxation Committee by a vote of 10 to 4. Two Republican members, Nolan Frizzelle of Huntington Beach and Charles Bader of Pomona, joined with eight Democrats in voting for the measure and sending it to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Beginning Jan. 1, 1990, Moore's bill would require any club that practices discrimination and has a state liquor license to print on all its receipts that expenditures at the club are not tax-deductible. No state agency is assigned by the bill, however, to determine which clubs practice discrimination.

"I'm ecstatic, I'm elated," Moore said Tuesday, noting that this was the first time the legislation had received a favorable vote in the Legislature. She took over sponsorship of the bill from former Assemblyman Julian Dixon (now a congressman) when she was first elected in 1978.

"Discrimination on the basis of race, sex or religion should never be considered acceptable," she said. "But it is even more reprehensible when it is supported by the state of California and its taxpayers."

Some Assembly members and supporters of the measure say privately that the bill has faltered in the past because Moore has not been aggressive enough in her efforts to win its passage.

Time Is Right

But she insisted that the time has not been right until now, particularly with the recent Supreme Court decision that helped establish that the First Amendment right to free association does not extend to protect discriminatory business practices.

To pick up votes in the committee, Moore agreed to an amendment that would give special consideration to religious groups that seek to limit their memberships to those of the same faith. But how that would be accomplished was unclear when the vote was taken.

Representatives of the club association and the Southern and Northern California golf associations spoke against Moore's bill at the committee hearing. "A religious club, an ethnic club, any club that is selective in its membership is going to be punished," protested Frank J. Burns, a lobbyist for the club association.

Friedman's bill to revoke the liquor licenses of clubs that discriminate was headed for trouble Tuesday in the Governmental Organization Committee when one member he counted on to vote for the bill planned to be absent from the hearing.

Friedman took the measure off the committee agenda, explaining, "It's always been nip and tuck and I can't afford to take it up when I don't have all my votes there."

But the freshman Democrat said he was optimistic the bill would pass because of the "snowballing effect" of the recent efforts to prohibit discrimination.

"I think the momentum is tremendous and the ultimate result is inevitable that all private club discrimination will be prohibited," he said.

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