Paducah City Commission Passes Fairness Ordinance
By Leah Long
PADUCAH, KY - Following nearly two hours of debate regarding a change to an anti-discrimination ordinance, it was passed by the Paducah City Commission. It will now include age, gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes of people.

The meeting room at City Hall was overflowing with people, and the Fire Marshall made those who were standing around the room go outside onto the second floor balcony. Over seventy citizens signed up to voice their opinions on the matter, with 14 people allowed to speak within a 3-minute time limit. Eight people spoke against the ordinance and six were in favor of it.

Proponents of the ordinance described the proposed change as a "fairness ordinance" since it would be more inclusive. Opponents of the ordinance felt everyone was included in existing anti-discrimination law.

Resident Thomas Berry spoke out against the ordinance by stating it puts religious freedoms in the cross-hairs and asked the commission to vote it down.  Joshua Ayers called it a divisive ordinance, questioning why it was even necessary.

Paducah resident and business owner David Tindell spoke out in favor of the ordinance and told the commissioners and audience as a disabled person he has experienced discrimination from businesses in town. He pointed out Paducah's reliance on tourism and said since everyone has smart phones, if a visitor were denied services, it could end up on social media and could be damaging to Paducah's tourism. "Just be professional and treat people equally. I don't think that's asking too much," he said.

Once they had heard comments, the commissioners commented on the ordinance often times with commissioners Sarah Stewart Holland and Richard Abraham sparring verbally. Paducah Mayor Brandy Harless emphasizing the Human Rights Commission does not trump federal or state law. "Don't give the City of Paducah more power than what it has," she said, noting the current ordinance has been on the books for 70 years.

Commissioner Sarah Stewart Holland stated she was not satisfied with the notion that just because there were no complaints does not mean there is not a problem. She spoke about several personal accounts of discrimination some same sex couples have experienced.

Commissioner Richard Abraham introduced an amendment that would exclude business owners from discrimination complaints if they had deeply-held religious beliefs. But the amendment drew some criticism from Holland, who said she understood where Abraham was coming from, noted  Kentucky state law trumps the local ordinance. "Knowing that there's already Kentucky state protections in place, I'm opposed to this amendment."

"No matter what we pass, we are going to have to get along with each other. We can't escape the person responsibility on either side on how we treat one another," said Abraham.

The commissioners wanted clarification on the state law so Paducah City Attorney David Denton said Kentucky's law covers all sorts of human rights issues but does not cover anything about sexual orientation or gender identity.  But, state law allows cities to extend protection to certain groups. Kentucky has religious freedom legislation on its books. "It's extremely strong. I haven't surveyed every state, but I can't imagine how you could set the bar higher before a business is actually persecuted by exercising it's legitimate business rights," said Denton.

When the commissioner addressed the vote on Abraham's amendment, his was the only one in favor of it. The 4-1 vote killed the amendment, and the "clean" ordinance was passed by the same voting margin. The change in the ordinance also reduced the number of members of the Human Rights Commission  from nine to five.

Watch the final vote and reaction from those in the Commission chambers below.

Published 09:00 PM, Tuesday Jan. 09, 2018
Updated 01:46 PM, Wednesday Apr. 11, 2018

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