Douglas vetoes anti-discrimination bill

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has vetoed a bill that outlaws discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or expression.

The governor says the bill is not clearly worded and needs more work.

But a group that represents gays, lesbians and transgendered people says Douglas is now the first Vermont governor to veto anti-discrimination legislation.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) In his veto message to the legislature, Governor Douglas says the bill may raise more questions than answers.

The legislation outlaws discrimination against people due to gender identity or expression. Douglas says he’s against discrimination, but he says a law that affects employers, and anyone who provides public accommodations needs very careful scrutiny.

(Douglas) “A number of lawyers including those on the Human Rights Commission came to me and said that there were so many uncertainties in this bill as to what it might mean for employers and how they would advise their clients. Seemed to be enough questions that we better step back and let it be discussed more thoroughly.”

(Dillon) Douglas said existing law protects people who would be covered by the new legislation.

(Douglas) “Because we’ve seen successful action by the attorney general on the basis of gender identity, it seems we have some statutes in place now to do the job. Several courts outside of Vermont have confirmed that general anti-gender bias laws suffice for transsexual individuals so we may have the tools we need now.”

(Dillon) Douglas’s veto was immediately criticized by Scudder Parker, the governor’s Democratic opponent. In a statement, Parker said Douglas betrayed Vermont’s long tradition of tolerance and supporting civil rights.

Christopher Kauffman is director of the RU12? Community center in Burlington. He said Douglas is now the first governor in the state’s history to veto a bill that fights discrimination. And Kauffmann disagrees with the governor that the bill needs more work. Kauffman says the bill clarifies existing law.

(Kauffmann) “So for the governor to say that the AG’s decision is enough when the attorney general says that it’s not, that it’s vague, and then claiming that our clarification is ambiguous when that’s actually quite specific is a little bit of a contradiction and that the governor is boxing himself into a corner there.”

(Dillon) The bill was supposed to outlaw discrimination against someone who had undergone a sex change, or who was expressing a gender different from the one he or she was born with.

Kauffmann says people in these situations face very real prejudice in society.

(Kauffmann) “And the folks that we work with here at the community center tell us these incredible, incredible stories about being denied medical care, about being supported in a job interview on the first interview, about something being discovered about them and suddenly the job is withdrawn without explanation. There’s just a constant stream of stories about people having a really hard time just trying to live their life.”

(Dillon) The legislature will debate the governor’s veto next month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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