Billings releases draft of nondiscrimination ordinance

2014-06-13T15:33:00Z 2014-06-25T16:59:06Z Billings releases draft of nondiscrimination ordinanceBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

One week after an all-night session with the nondiscrimination ordinance, the Billings City Council will wade into the topic again during Monday’s work session.

This time, City Council members have an actual proposal to discuss.

The work session begins at 5:30 p.m. in council chambers at city hall.

During the work session, public testimony will be limited to one minute. Last week, 143 people took up to three minutes each to tell the council why it should or should not consider the ordinance.

After taking in about nine hours of testimony, the City Council voted 7-4 to lift a directive preventing city staff from completing its work on the NDO proposal.

City Administrator Tina Volek said she’s not sure what to expect Monday. Any overflow crowd will be offered space in the city hall conference room and lobby.

A television will be available in the conference room for people who want to watch the proceedings on the city’s alternate cable channel, Channel 8.

The doors will open at 5 p.m. Monday. People who have testified will be asked to leave to allow the next person to testify.

In a memo to council members, Volek said the proposed ordinance is “similar in many ways” to NDOs already adopted in Bozeman, Butte-Silver Bow, Helena and Missoula. But it’s also different in several ways, including:

n In several places, it adds the phrase “non-binary” — one who identifies as neither a man or a woman — to the listed categories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual.

n In places of public accommodation where users normally appear in the nude, users may be required to use the facilities designated for their anatomical sex, regardless of their gender identity.

n People who believe they have been discriminated against must first file a complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau. Volek said the bureau chief has told City Attorney Brent Brooks that the bureau will investigate the complaint even though the state has yet to adopt an NDO.

n If the bureau says the matter does not fall within its jurisdiction, the person who feels discriminated against can file a complaint with the Billings Police Department or Municipal Court, or file a civil proceeding — but not both.

“It is the intent of the city of Billings,” the proposed ordinance states, “that no person shall be denied his or her civil rights or be discriminated against based upon his or her sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran’s status, political beliefs or obesity.”

The City Council finds discrimination prohibitions “necessary and desirable,” the proposal states, “because existing state and federal laws regarding discrimination do not expressly or clearly address all discriminatory acts reported by the city’s diverse residents.”

The proposal defines what’s covered under preventing discrimination in public accommodations — from campgrounds to restaurants — and also states places not covered, including churches and private educational institutions with a curriculum based on religious faith.

Housing discrimination is also prohibited, but an exception is made for renting sleeping rooms in a home where the owner also resides, so long as no more than three rooms are rented.

Volek said the City Council’s timetable for scheduling a public hearing on the language of the proposed ordinance depends on how many additions and corrections members suggest for the proposal, which was drafted by city staff.

The City Council is not scheduled to take any formal action on the proposal Monday. An ordinance requires readings at two business sessions — held every other week — a public hearing, and a 30-day waiting period to become effective.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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