(St.Joseph,MO)- The city council is one step closer to establishing a non-discrimination ordinance in St.Joseph. Wednesday evening the council held a work session to review changes made to the proposed non-discrimination ordinance.The proposed ordinance prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation or military status.
The ordinance has been put on hold since May, while council members took time in June to meet with representatives from area businesses and the St.Joseph Chamber of Commerce to discuss how the potential ordinance could impact business.
"We got a lot of information when we met with the Chamber [of Commerce].We got a lot of good ideas and steps to take through there with mediation,"City Council member at Large Brenda Blessing said.
The proposed ordinance will establish a Human Rights Commission.Members of the nine person commission would be recommended by the city council and approved by the mayor to help mediate and resolve discrimination disputes.
"With the arbitration I don't think we are going to have to put in a special line for people calling in to do this, but I think it's to put the word out that we value our people in town, we value everybody," Blessing said.
The commission will be comprised of at least one representative from the designated categories of small business (less than 50 employees), large business (more than 50 employees), education, social services and protected classes. Each member would serve a voluntary three year term.
Michael Jasper has been following the progress of the non-discrimination ordinance since May and said one of his biggest concerns for the mediation policy is that the cost of mediation would be left for the parties to resolve.
“Unfortunately, if someone has just been fired or just lost their home because of discrimination it would be very difficult for them to pay for mediation. My hope would be that the city, through the Human Rights Committee might fund the mediation,” Jasper said.
One of the biggest changes from previous work sessions was the eliminating the ability to impose a fine on employers and landlords found guilty of discriminating.
"Our council was not ready to pursue an ordinance with a penalty phase, so right now we are just happy with the option of mediation," Jasper said.
Blessing said the council hasn’t nominated anyone for the commission yet, but said councilmembers will heavily vet the people they recommend.
"People are getting on the commission that are educated in that area and also somewhat sensitive to that issue and they don't have an agenda for getting on that commission," Blessing said.
Jasper said he would prefer commission members to have a history of social justice work and would like to see at least two members of the Human Rights Commission be representatives from the LGBT and Transgender community.
"People of all the other protected classes have state law and federal law to turn to.LGBT people and people with gender identity changes don't have those same protections,” Jasper said. “I'm hoping they will have a loud voice on this human rights commission so that community has somewhere to go.”
The first reading of the proposed ordinance will be at the next city council meeting on August 27.