Saturday, July 18, 2015

Eureka Springs moves to clarify civil rights ordinance

Posted By on Sat, Jul 18, 2015 at 9:22 AM

KIT WILLIAMS: Fayetevile city attorney provides guidance to Eureka Springs on rights ordinance.
  • KIT WILLIAMS: Fayetevile city attorney provides guidance to Eureka Springs on rights ordinance.
The Lovely County Citizen reports on a special Eureka Springs City Council meeting to amend a new civil rights ordinance to make it less subject to challenge as being in conflict with a state law meant to prevent cities from extending civil rights protections to gay people.

The city council dropped "socioeconomic background" from Ordinance 2223, added a clause so minors under the influence cannot allege discrimination, added verbiage protecting LGBTs and minorities from financial discrimination and clarified the law to include protections for both residents and people visiting the city. The amendment also adds a severability clause as an added protection in the event of a Constitutional challenge.

Several attorneys, including City Attorney Tom Carpenter of Little Rock, have said local non-discrimination ordinances don't run afoul of the state law meant to protect discrimination against gay people. The state law said local governments couldn't extend protection to people not already protected in aw. But several state laws — including an anti-bullying statute and not to mention a recent federal EEOC ruling — do extend protections on sexual orientation and gender identity grounds. A question arose about whether sufficient evidence existed of current protections on the basis of socio-economic background, so that element was removed.

Fayetteville City Attorney Kim Williams, who drafted that city's anti-discrimination ordinance that will be subject to a referendum in September, attended the meeting and provided the advice on socio-economic status.During a 5-minute break, Williams consulted with Weaver and told him that it is wise not to make too many changes to their ordinance and that the language needs to be "clear and non-partisan."

"I would rather have the Constitution wrapped around me saying it is not the city council but the people that did it. The less you change the better," he said. "Our feeling is that it doesn't violate the Intrastate Commerce law ... it's not a slam dunk. It has to be litigated and that's what I can do. I assume one or both cities will be sued and we will do everything to protect our citizens' civil rights."

Several cities and counties have adopted non-discrimination laws in advance of the state law taking effect next week. Its sponsors — Religious Right Republicans — remain confident that they can prevent any legal actions that bar discrimination against gay people. They want to protect legal discrimination in employment, housing and public services. Only a lawsuit will decide the matter and it's not entirely clear what the path to a court case would be.

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