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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Cold Spring introduces first reading of Fairness Ordinance

Cold Spring City Council members discuss the Fairness Ordinance. They voted 5 to 1 to pass the first reading.

by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

At the February 10 meeting of Cold Spring city council, members heard the first reading of an anti-discrimination fairness ordinance and voted five to one to continue the process toward a final vote at its next meeting. Council member Lisa Cavanaugh filed the one vote against the ordinance, citing concerns over some parts of the proposed ordinance language, also indicating she would continue to listen to feedback from community members before the second reading.

If passed on second reading, the city would become the 19th municipality to pass such an ordinance in the state to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.

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Kentucky is one of 28 states that does not mention gender identity or sexual orientation in its civil rights law protecting against discrimination in housing, services, public accommodations and employment. The Fairness Campaign is working to have cities and counties across the state pass ordinances at the municipal level.

While supporters say they would like to see fairness language adopted statewide, the bill to do so has not yet come to the floor of the legislature. By having municipalities step forward, the hope is it would influence state law makers to move on the statewide protections.

The first fairness ordinances passed in Covington, Louisville and Lexington about 20 years ago, but momentum has picked up over the past couple of years, especially in Northern Kentucky. In the past year, Northern Kentucky has seen fairness ordinances pass in Dayton, Bellevue, Highland Heights and Fort Thomas.


Openness as a benefit to the city


With language similar to other ordinances in the area, the Cold Spring ordinance reads in part: "The city desires to implement a policy to promote fair treatment and equal opportunity for all persons regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age (over the age of forty (40)), disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or familial status."

The ordinance continues, "The city desires to protect all individuals from discrimination on the basis of these protected classifications in the contexts of housing and related financial transactions, employment and public accommodations..."

City Attorney Brandon Voelker spoke about benefits of the ordinance. "There is a lot of national discussion that cities that have laws like this, people view as an open city, a place they are looking to move to, that protections are in place. Some cities use it as a public statement about their city."

Council member Adam Sandfoss, who introduced the ordinance to the city, said, "Looking at the data, 83 percent of Kentuckians right now support these ordinances and that’s across all political ideologies...it doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything... It’s just to say that in our city we are not going to tolerate somebody being fired just because they are gay. In Kentucky...it is completely legal to fire somebody or deny them services based solely on that. Young families, even older families, are moving forward and have more people who are open, more accepting."

He pointed to other benefits. "Sometimes people are afraid that if you have these ordinances, you are going to lose business. Yet, the mayor of Midway has actually said, he’s seen his occupational tax rates increase 33 percent in one year since they passed their ordinance and they are bringing in a new 250-person workforce as well."

Concerns over language


Cavanaugh's objection was based on her desire to have additional language added to the ordinance that would state "the city is prohibited from substantially burdening a person’s freedom of religion..."

Voelker pointed out that the ordinance as written already includes exemptions for religious entities and that the additional language requested by Cavanaugh would basically summarize what the U.S. Supreme Court as already written on the issue. The ordinance would be subject to the federal court decisions whether that language was included or not, he said.

"I just think it would make some people more comfortable to have this wording in the ordinance," said Cavanaugh. 

Voelker said he did not see any harm with putting such a statement in or leaving it out, but that is was not necessary as it is already addressed by the Supreme Court.

Council member Michael Ruscher said, "To me this is just reiterating what is already there. Why say something three or four times when its already in there."

Rather than the language suggested by Cavanaugh, Voelker offered to add a reference to the decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. Last year, the court ruled in a well-known case involving a baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple (Masterpiece Cakeshop vs Colorado Civil Rights Commission) that there is protection for those with deeply held religious beliefs.

Further discussion and a move toward second reading

Since this was only the first reading, council members said they would continue to look at the issue and voted to pass the first reading five to one. The city is expected to vote on the second reading of the Fairness Ordinance at its next meeting of council on February 24.

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