Time limit cancels Metro Council vote on "fairness ordinance"

Time limit cancels Metro Council vote on
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Louisiana Politics

POSTED: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 4:28pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 9:42pm

The people who filled every open space in the Metro Council chambers heard nearly every possible argument for and against the "fairness ordinance." What they did not hear was a vote.

The council's meeting Wednesday night ended abruptly at 8:30 p.m., when the council was forced to adjourn.

An overflow crowd had plenty to say about one of the most controversial topics the council has considered. The ordinance would ban discrimination in housing and employment based on a number of personal characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Supporters were given the opportunity to speak first, and Mayor-President Kip Holden opened the discussion by saying he favored the ordinance. Many supporters said that passing an anti-discrimination ban would show that Baton Rouge is a progressive, welcoming city. They pointed to Shreveport, and Oxford and Starkville, MS, as other nearby cities with similar laws on their books. A handful of local business leaders said that it would be good for the local economy.

"Having Baton Rouge viewed as a city that values, embraces, and welcomes diversity is a must if companies like Albemarle are going to be able to prosper with a headquarters here," said Luther Kissam IV, the chemical giant's CEO.

Critics pointed to the recent relocation of IBM and the capital region's low unemployment as proof that the ordinance is not necessary.

"We all appreciate the businesses that have come here to Baton Rouge," one man said, "but I want to tell you why they've come to Baton Rouge: Baton Rouge is a great city." He pointed to a recent report that Baton Rouge ranked among the five happiest cities in the country.

Other opponents of the ordinance stated that it would actually hurt the economy. Some said people would refuse to shop at stores with transgender employees, while others predicted a flood of discrimination lawsuits that would bankrupt small businesses. Others argued that sexuality is a subjective idea, so it should not be used to protect people the same way race, age, and gender are.

Supporters of the ban spoke for roughly an hour and a half before the council took a break. Opponents held the floor for another hour and a half. With only four minutes before the council's deadline, John Delgado became the first council member to speak on the issue. Delgado, who supports the ordinance, discussed a few of the arguments made during the public hearing before time expired.

Afterward, Delgado admitted that he used up the final minutes intentionally. He claimed that he did not want the council to rush into a vote, and that all members deserved to have time to explain their views and ask questions.

Council members will get to debate the ordinance and cast a vote during the August 13 meeting. The public will not have a chance to comment.

Delgado added that, if the ordinance does not pass at that time, he will launch a petition to add a "fairness policy statement" to the plan of government.

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