BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, told the House civil law committee that she would not push the bill because she didn't have the votes for passage amid strong opposition from business organizations and conservative groups.
St. Germain described the proposal as a "fairness bill." She said it would help employers retain employees because they would have more job security.
"This bill is overdue," she said.
The proposal would have made it unlawful for employers in Louisiana to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The measure would have exempted religious institutions or businesses.
Before St. Germain pulled the bill, lawmakers heard testimony from supporters who said it was unfair that gay people have to worry about hiding their partners for fear of being fired.
Jeremy Abbott, a software worker in Shreveport, said a person's livelihood could be destroyed because of workplace discrimination. He pointed to his town as an example to follow since Shreveport passed a law banning workplace discrimination against gays last year.
Employers also testified that discrimination was bad for business.
Casey Phillips, executive director of the public art organization BR Walls Project, said he struggled to persuade people to stay in Louisiana for his business venture because of the state's perceived intolerance.
Scott Hodgin, owner of the graphic design business TILT, said only an employee's competence should matter. "Just let people be," he said.
Supporters of St. Germain's bill said many Fortune 500 companies already have similar rules prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They listed several state businesses that they said already protect gays from workplace discrimination.
Opposition to the measure came from business organizations and conservative groups, including Dawn Starns, of the National Federation of Independent Business; Kathleen Benfield, of American Family Association of New Orleans; Sandy McDade, of the conservative Louisiana Power Coalition; and Will Green, of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
But they weren't given the opportunity to testify before the committee before St. Germain shelved the measure.
However, Kristi Williams, vice president of communications for LABI, said after the hearing that her organization opposed the proposal because it would lead to more lawsuits against employers.
St. Germain said opponents were going against the Bible's teachings by not treating gays fairly.
"They do not love their neighbors," she said.
She pledged to return with the proposal next year.