House holding funds hostage over 4-H rule

by Andrew Donohue

University-sponsored 4-H clubs will legally be allowed to discriminate against homosexuals if state legislators have their way.
The House is withholding nearly $40 million in state funds from the University until the Board of Regents votes to allow the youth club’s discriminatory practices. The amendment mandating the policy change was passed by the House two weeks ago.
In 1997, the Legislature passed a bill exempting 4-H clubs from Minnesota’s 1993 human rights law. But the University, whose extension services sponsor the state’s 1,500 clubs, still requires club leaders and volunteers to sign a pledge saying they will not discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Rep. Kris Hasskamp, DFL-Crosby, is among one of the representatives who is levying for the House provision.
“Maybe we need to look at separating 4-H from the University,” Hasskamp said. “My constituents are very disturbed. They feel discriminated against for their religious convictions.”
Hasskamp also said a number of people have complained about the nondiscrimination pledge and that 4-H members are experiencing a crisis of conscience because of the endorsement of homosexuality.
On the line is $38.5 million, which comprises the University’s current supplemental education bill. The original supplemental request has already been trimmed by $3 million.
The “human rights” provision was added as a floor amendment in the House bill, though no similar amendment exists in the Senate version.
Because of the discrepancy between the House and Senate, the provision will be handled by a House-Senate conference committee.
“This clearly violates the constitutional authority of the regents to govern the University,” said Mark Rotenberg, the school’s chief attorney.
“The effect of such a law would be that 4-H and other agricultural organizations would be authorized to discriminate against gays and lesbians for employment,” Rotenberg said.
The provision is against the human rights act, Rotenberg said.
— This story contains information from the Associate Press.