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Bill to Ban Liquor Licenses for Biased Clubs Advances

Times Staff Writer

Furthering efforts to end discrimination by private clubs, a key Assembly committee narrowly approved legislation Tuesday to prohibit liquor licenses for large clubs that exclude women or minorities.

The Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, which had bottled up similar bills for the last 12 years, approved the anti-discrimination measure by a vote of 10 to 4, the bare minimum needed for passage.

The vote was strictly along partisan lines, with all 10 Democrats on the 18-member committee voting in favor of the measure and four Republicans voting against it.

“The committee has recognized that the time has finally come,” said Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Tarzana), the author of the measure. “In 1987, we cannot tolerate official support for discrimination. There’s tremendous momentum all across the country to finally end the practice of private club discrimination.”

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Friedman’s bill would prohibit the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control from issuing or renewing the liquor licenses of clubs that have 400 or more members, provide regular meal service and regularly accept payment from non-members.

About 50 clubs could be affected by the measure, including the Los Angeles Country Club, the Wilshire Country Club, the Pacific Union Club in San Francisco and the Sutter Club in Sacramento.

To determine whether a club practices discrimination, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control could examine club by-laws, check membership lists or investigate complaints from individuals alleging that they have been discriminated against.

Originally, the legislation also would have affected scores of other organizations, but amendments accepted by Friedman to win support for the bill exempted a variety of organizations such as Elks and Moose lodges, American Legion posts and clubs formed specifically for religious or ethnic purposes.

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Approval of Friedman’s bill is part of a wave of governmental action this year challenging the autonomy of private clubs that are often all-white, all-male and include powerful business and community leaders as members.

In June, the state Franchise Tax Board gave final approval to a regulation prohibiting members of discriminatory clubs from claiming tax breaks for club expenses. In July, the Assembly passed and sent to the Senate a bill including similar provisions.

In May, the Los Angeles City Council adopted an ordinance banning discrimination by large private clubs. And the same month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Rotary International is prohibited from ousting club chapters that admit women as members.

In response to the growing pressure and changing attitudes, a number of clubs have decided to abandon discriminatory policies. They include the Jonathon Club, the California Club, the Hillcrest Country Club, Kiwanis International and the Lions Club International.

Even so, Friedman had a difficult time winning approval of his bill in its first committee test. Approval of the measure, which had its first hearing in May, was stalled repeatedly while he attempted to round up the necessary votes.

Friedman attributed the reluctance of members to vote for the bill to longstanding opposition from influential club members and the clubs’ organized lobbying effort in Sacramento. “There has been a pattern of voting for a long time against the bill,” Friedman said. “There are a lot of powerful interests--Establishment interests around the state--that have pushed very hard to reserve their right to discriminate and that’s not an easy nut to crack.”

Friedman acknowledged that the lengthy fight to win the committee’s approval of his bill will make it difficult to win final passage from both the Assembly and the Senate before the Legislature adjourns for the year in mid-September.

“I’ll push as hard and fast as I can,” he said. “Because of the shortness of time, if we can’t get it out this month, we’ll get it out in January.”

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