Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Hearing on rights ordinance tonight

Ban would include discrimination based upon sexual orientation

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Keep it brief and be respectful of others. That's the advice city commissioners are giving participants for tonight's hearing on a proposed expansion of Covington's human rights ordinance. The proposal would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and six other unprotected categories.

Because the gay rights portion of the proposed ordinance has triggered an emotional debate, Covington Mayor Butch Callery said that tonight's hearing will be conducted under the same strict ground rules as a previous hearing on Feb. 11.

That one in downtown Covington drew more than 225 people. Of the 43 speakers, 40 said the proposed changes would bring needed social and economic change, while three people said they thought the law was unnecessary and would offer special rights to certain groups of people.

Individuals will have three minutes to speak at tonight's hearing, while organizations will be limited to five minutes, Callery said.

Cell phones must be turned off or silenced, and no signs will be allowed inside the school.

"There were a few people who'd signed up (to address the City Commission) on February 11 who didn't get to speak," Callery said. "(Tonight), those people will be recognized first. Next, we'll recognize Covington residents."

Tonight's hearing is set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Latonia Elementary School, 39th Street and Huntington Avenue.

No vote will be taken.

The first reading of the expanded human rights ordinance is scheduled for April 15, and a vote will be taken April 29.

Last week, the Covington Human Rights Commission met with representatives of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Cincinnati Business Council to discuss their questions and concerns about the proposed ordinance.

Special Counsel Frank Warnock said that the human rights commission is considering a number of changes in the proposed ordinance, including lowering the proposed fines of $50 to $250 per day, increasing the size of businesses that the ordinance would apply to from six employees to eight employees, and reviewing whether protected categories such as place of birth, national origin, color and race could be covered under the phrase "ethnicity."

The human rights commission also is reviewing a request from the Chamber of Commerce to remove a provision that calls for revocation of an offender's occupational license after the third offense, as well as a request to have any complaints made under the ordinance heard by a third party arbitrator.

"I think if you're going to do this correctly you need to get as much input as possible," Callery said.

He added that revisions would likely be made in the proposed ordinance until April 15.

Once the ordinance is in its final form, it will be posted on the city's Web site at www.covingtonky.com.

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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