Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Rights plan up for vote tonight

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - A revised human rights ordinance designed to protect homosexuals, people over 40 and disabled individuals from discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodations will be decided tonight after four months of public discussion.

Most of the Covington City Commission members would not say how they planned to vote.

However, a majority praised the process, which involved two public hearings and meetings with the business community.

• What: Vote on expanded Covington human rights ordinance to outlaw discrimination in housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and 13 other protected classes. It also protects 10 groups of people from job discrimination.
• When: 7 p.m. tonight
• Where: Covington City Commission chambers in Covington City Building, 638 Madison Ave.
Mayor Butch Callery said he thinks city officials have done everything they can do to gather information on an expanded human rights ordinance that could serve as a potential national model.

"If nobody knows about this now, they must have been living in a cave in Afghanistan,'' Callery said.

"I'm leaning toward voting for it,'' City Commissioner Craig Bohman said Monday, after receiving a final draft of the ordinance Friday.

"It's just the right thing to do. Discrimination is wrong, period, and this is a well-worked piece of legislation that has had a lot of input from the public and the business community,'' he said.

Commissioner Bernie Moorman said he would not indicate where he stood on the issue until tonight's vote, so that both sides would be comfortable speaking to him. However, he praised the process.

"I think the mayor did a great job,'' said Moorman, who also complimented the Rev. Don Smith, chairman of the Covington Human Rights Commission, for his work on the ordinance, and the Covington Business Council, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the public for input.

"Everybody's concern, when possible, was considered,'' Moorman said.

Robert Hudson, vice chairman of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, released a two-page statement Monday that praised the city for addressing some of the business community's concerns in the revised ordinance, but stopped short of taking a position.

"If the people of the city of Covington want this ordinance, the Chamber's role should be to make sure it's as fair as possible to employers,'' Hudson said.

Commissioner Jerry Bamberger declined to say how he planned to vote, adding he hadn't finished reading the final draft of the 23-page ordinance.

"I think we've tried to do as much as we can to gather information and get everybody involved,'' Bamberger said. He said he wants to make sure the city has had enough time to ensure the business community's issues are addressed before voting.

At Bamberger's request, special counsel Frank Warnock added a provision addressing frivolous complaints.

The revised ordinance enables a hearing officer or a court to force anyone who brings a frivolous complaint or otherwise engages in frivolous conduct to pay "reasonable attorney's fees and costs'' of the Human Rights Commission and /or the nonviolating party.

The City Commission also must decide whether to decide complaints through an arbitration or hearing officer process.

The proposed ordinance would ban discrimination in public accommodations and employment, where the current ordinance addresses only housing; and it would carry fines and other penalties to give offenders incentive to correct an unfair situation, supporters have said.

Critics have said the law is unnecessary and would offer special rights to certain groups of people.

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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