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Assembly OKs Bill Banning Anti-Gay Bias but Rejects Another

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Assembly gave approval to legislation that would bar discrimination against homosexuals on the job, but rejected a bill to ban discrimination against gay students in public schools after an emotional debate in which both sides quoted Scripture and spoke of toleration.

The employment discrimination bill by Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) late Tuesday won the bare minimum 41 votes needed to pass in the 80-member Assembly.

On Wednesday, Republicans, insisting that the bill could require Boy Scouts to hire gays as leaders, attempted to win enough votes to force reconsideration of the bill, but failed.

Villaraigosa’s bill seeks to expand protections approved by the Legislature five years ago by increasing enforcement and permitting claims to be filed up to a year after an alleged discriminatory act took place.

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“Homosexuality is not a civil right, like race or religion,” Assemblyman Steve Baldwin (R-El Cajon) said Wednesday.

Villaraigosa said his bill (AB 257) exempts religious, nonprofit groups.

But Republicans said nonprofit groups that are not religious, such as the Boy Scouts, would be subjected to the bill’s requirements. Villaraigosa said the Boy Scouts would not be covered by the bill.

Baldwin received a letter from a regional official of the Boy Scouts of America opposing the bill on grounds that it would require them to hire gays.

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“If a Boy Scout leader were gay and is fired, then they could be sued,” Baldwin said. “It’s not just the Boy Scouts. It could be any other nonreligious, nonprofit group.”

While Villaraigosa’s bill now heads to the Senate, a measure by Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) involving gay students lost when it mustered 36 votes, five short of a majority.

The vote came after an especially emotional, sometimes stirring debate late Tuesday.

Republicans warned that the bill would require acceptance of “the gay lifestyle,” while Kuehl characterized the bill as part of “the greatest moral struggle in the last years of the 20th century.”

“This bill is about thousands of students in the public schools of California [who] . . . run a gantlet of harassment and even of violence,” said Kuehl, one of two lesbian state lawmakers.

Kuehl’s bill (AB 101) sought to add sexual orientation to state law banning discrimination in public schools and colleges, and would have protected gay and lesbian students and teachers.

California’s public universities and several community colleges and public school districts have added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policies. The bill would put the policy in state law.

Among its provisions, the bill sought to bar schools from activities that might reflect badly on gays or lesbians--prompting Republicans to warn that teachers would be censored and could not fully discuss diseases such as AIDS.

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“You can’t by law compel change in faith or action,” Assemblyman George House (R-Hughson) said, warning that passage of the bill would prompt parents to pull their children from public schools.

While House and others made biblical references to support their contention that homosexuality is wrong, Assemblyman Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles) said his reading of the Bible “from Genesis to Revelation” shows that Jesus never condemned homosexuality.

“The last thing Jesus said, he said ‘Love everyone'--not straight people--'love everyone, as I have loved you,’ ” Wright declared.

The Legislature on Wednesday voted on several other measures:

* Reacting to the passage of Proposition 215, the Senate approved a measure (SB 535) that would provide $1 million to conduct research at the University of California into the potential medical uses of marijuana.

* The Senate approved SB 49 by Sen. Betty Karnett (D-Long Beach) to require that campaign finance reports be filed by computer and placed on the Internet.

* The Senate approved SB 521 by Sen. Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia) to require study of the gasoline additive MTBE, and potentially ban it if its risks outweigh its benefits. Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) won approve of SB 1189 to require the state to consider whether MTBE causes cancer or birth defects.

* The Senate approved SB 1339 by Sen. Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) that would prohibit magazines that would hold more than 10 bullets for most rifles other than .22-caliber ones, and pistol magazines that could hold more than 17 rounds. The bill has several exemptions.

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