Monday, February 19, 2001

Rights issue flares anew

Fort Thomas rep in opposition

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Rep. Kathy Stein recalls an experience in the General Assembly three years ago when she advocated a bill that would extend civil-rights protections based on sexual orientation.

        “It was a rather nasty debate,” Ms. Stein said.

        It could take place again this year.

        Ms. Stein, a Lexington Democrat, has again proposed a state law that would protect people from discrimination in housing, public accommodations or employ ment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

        A bill that would effectively repeal the ordinances in three communities that extend the same protections, and prohibit any other communities from passing similar laws, also has been filed, by Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas.

        “They are diametrically opposed,” Ms. Stein said.

        Mr. Fischer's bill would declare that the state has reserved the area of civil rights to its own statutory scheme and any local ordinances on the subject are void. In addition to the so-called fairness ordinances, any local laws on civil rights or discrimination would be repealed.

        Mr. Fischer acknowledges he does not believe that special protections should be offered to people based on what he said are choices.

        “Special protection should be given to immutable characteristics of a person or closely held religious beliefs,” Mr. Fischer said.

        Lexington, Louisville, Henderson and Jefferson County have passed ordinances that say people should not be discriminated against based on sexual orientation. The ordinances prohibit discrimination either in employment, housing or public accommodations or all three.

        The debates preceding the adoption of the local ordinances produced bitter disagreements.

        Since their adoptions within the past two years, the ordinances have produced varying results.

        No complaints have been filed in Henderson.

        In Lexington, only five signed, notarized complaints have been filed. But 33 informal inquiries have been made and three of them produced settlements totaling $19,920. Twenty of the Lexington cases involved alleged employment discrimination.

        William Wharton, the director of the Lexington Human Rights Commission, said many people make inquiries, but will not make formal complaints. Many times, those produce informal agreements with the help of commission staff. “We try to offer them a way for an employer or employee to resolve it short of an adversar ial process,” Mr. Wharton said.

        Mr. Fischer said the topic of civil rights is too important to be decided in individual communities.

        “The way society treats people is a factual issue that should be decided on a statewide level,” Mr. Fischer said.

        Ms. Stein said Mr. Fischer's view seems contradictory.

        “Typically, Republicans — conservatives — believe that local control is preferred to higher control. This is completely opposite from that,” Ms. Stein said.


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