In this June 2016 photo, Juneau residents attend a vigil at Marine Park. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In this June 2016 photo, Juneau residents attend a vigil at Marine Park. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

LGBTQ equal rights bill unlikely to advance any further this year

It’s unlikely to happen this year, but 2020 and beyond are in play

A bill that would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Alaskans is unlikely to make it to the House floor before this legislative session wraps up.

House Bill 82, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity expression, was referred to the House Judiciary Committee late last month, but Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, the bill’s sponsor, said it would be surprising for the bill to get a hearing in the next six days.

“The bill won’t die for another 12 months, which means there’s a chance in January,” Josephson said in an interview with the Empire. “I think everyone is pretty worn out at this point, but in January, you can bet I’ll be giving this thing the full-court press.”

The bill’s cosponsors include Reps. Andi Story, D-Juneau; Matt Claman, D-Anchorage; Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks; Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage; Zack Fields, D-Anchorage; Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka; and Harriett Drummond, D-Anchorage.

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, second from left, listens to Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, as she reads an amendment to repeal the Ocean Ranger program during a House Finance Committee meeting at the Capitol on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, second from left, listens to Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, as she reads an amendment to repeal the Ocean Ranger program during a House Finance Committee meeting at the Capitol on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Twenty-one states and Washington D.C. already have laws protecting against discrimination based on sexual identity or gender presentation. Juneau and Anchorage also have ordinances against refusing to rent, lend to or employ LGBTQ people.

[Golden anniversary of Stonewall Uprising celebrated in Juneau]

This is the second time in state history a bill intended to protect the rights of LGBTQ Alaskans has made it this far along in the legislative process. Last year, a bill also advanced out of the House State Affairs Committee.

On March 30, 2018, House Bill 184 was given a hearing, and it was ultimately held over.

Josephson recalled a motion to move the bill out of the Judiciary Committee was not made because it was anticipated a role call vote would “kill” the bill.

If House Bill 82 gets a hearing in January, Josephson said it’s possible the same thing could happen if it’s expected four of the seven committee members would vote against the bill passing, and a conservative-leaning committee makes that a distinct possibility.

While the bill’s listed cosponsors are all members of the Democratic Party, Josephson said it does have at least some bipartisan support.

While Josephson acknowledged Republican legislators typically oppose LGBTQ-friendly legislation, he credited Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, for the bill’s unprecedented advancement last year.

Josephson said if the bill makes it past the House Judiciary Committee, it would have a good chance of making it to the House floor.

He was less optimistic of whether it would then pass the Senate or be signed into law, but said getting to either step would be a milestone.

[Woman arrested for stealing puppy from owner’s yard]

“If I could just get a successful passage out of the House, that would be a monumental achievement,” Josephson said of a potential landmark achievement for LGBTQ-friendly legislation at the state level.

He said the bill’s gradual progress has been encouraging and made the comparison to putting a man in space before a man could walk on the moon. Josephson said he believes in the bill’s cause and said it is unequivocally a civil rights bill.

Josephson predicted the bill will ultimately become law whether it takes that step in 2020 or further down the line.

“This bill is going to pass. It may not pass until 2030, but it’s going to pass,” Josephson said. “Easily within my lifetime, and I’m 54, this bill will be law in the state of Alaska. It’s going to happen.”

• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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