Frankfort tweaks proposal to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation

gkocher1@herald-leader.comJuly 15, 2013 

FRANKFORT — Frankfort city commissioners said they anticipate eventual passage of a fairness ordinance, but they spent two hours Monday discussing and tweaking a draft.

The first reading of and vote on the revised ordinance could occur Monday, with final passage Aug. 26, City Attorney Rob Moore said. However, further revisions could alter that time line.

Four Kentucky cities — Lexington, Louisville, Covington and Vicco in Perry County — have ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville-based advocacy organization, did not speak against the changes made to the ordinance Monday.

"It sounds like a lot of things got cleaned up, and the ordinance seems to suit the City of Frankfort now, and it looks like it will be moving forward," Hartman said. "I didn't hear any consensus on any provisions that would weaken the ordinance at all."

Commissioner Lynn Bowers said she had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from people all over the state who are watching closely as Frankfort considers the ordinance.

Bowers questioned whether Frankfort needed a fairness ordinance, saying she had not found one instance of employment or housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Nevertheless, despite her concerns, Bowers said, "I know this is going to pass."

The draft ordinance presented Monday amends the city's existing fair housing ordinance to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and prohibits discrimination in employment and public accommodations.

The ordinance resurrects a Human Rights Commission, which the city had at one time but later repealed. The commissioners reduced the size of the human rights commission from 11 members to seven.

Complaints initially would go to a "fairness officer," who would endeavor to resolve the dispute within 60 days through informal mediation or conciliation.

If that process was unsuccessful, the aggrieved person could then file a formal complaint with the human rights commission. The commission would "investigate, hear and determine" whether there were violations.

City commissioner Robert Roach questioned whether there was a need for a human rights commission. Roach said it would be enough to appoint a city employee as fairness officer.

But Bowers said she "would feel better" having a board of seven perspectives, "rather than one individual," determining whether violations had occurred.

At Roach's suggestion, the section on penalties for violation of the ordinance no longer calls for imprisonment in jail for a year. The penalties now include a $500 fine. A plaintiff also could seek redress in district or circuit court, although Roach said he preferred that any hearings would be administrative, kept within the city and kept out of the court system.

The draft ordinance as presented defined "employer" as "any person who has two or more employees in each of four or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding year."

The commission changed the definition to "any person who has eight or more employees within the state in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year." The wording was changed to match the wording of current state law.

Roach said he did not want the ordinance to be officially titled a "fairness ordinance," as it is commonly called. Such a moniker is "designed to make people who oppose this look bad," he said.

Mayor Bill May said that the ordinance was not officially titled a "fairness ordinance" but that it was an ordinance regarding "fair housing, public accommodations and employment."

Bowers said the ordinance should include a statement that Frankfort is a city that accepts different people.

"I don't want our reputation to be called into question. We're already accepting and we hope to continue to be," Bowers said.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305.Twitter: @heraldleader.

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