August 21, 2012

News Release

For Immediate Release

Council Study Session Summary

City Council hosted its weekly study session at noon, Aug. 21. It was a public meeting, but not a public hearing and mainly addressed questions posed at Council's Aug. 13 meeting about a bill (Council Bill 2012-226) to add sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as protected categories in the City's nondiscrimination ordinance and a bill (Council Bill 2012-227) to lessen the penalties for marijuana possession.

Councilman Thomas Bieker announced he would bring another motion to Council Aug. 27 to table SOGI. He proposes that a task force be created to involve community stakeholders and allow for open dialogue and community discussion.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Seifried presented an idea he says he will bring to Council Aug. 27 to send the SOGI ordinance to the ballot in November. The City was asked Aug. 20 to draft the bill, which is classified as an emergency, in order to meet the Aug. 28 deadline to be on the November ballot. The City Charter allows a bill to be presented on an emergency basis if it is a submission of a proposal to the people.

Seifried has asked City staff to draft the bill to help simplify potential proposed ballot language. The bill will only address the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes. It removes the section formalizing a process for the Mayor's Commission on Human Rights to refer cases to the municipal prosecutor for legal action.

The public has the opportunity to speak to the bill on the subject of whether or not the proposal should be sent to a vote, at the Aug. 27 meeting. Mayor Stephens says Council will limit comments to three minutes each and a total of two hours for the hearing.

If the bill passes, the proposed question will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

If the bill fails, Council will continue the public hearing on the original proposal and likely vote on it.

The Mayor ended the meeting by referencing a letter he sent in response to questions posed by Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of The General Council of the Assemblies of God. The response will be posted at springfieldmo.gov.

For more information contact Cora Scott at 417-864-1009 or cscott@springfieldmo.gov.

About the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Bill

City Code currently prohibits discrimination based on factors such as race, religion and disability when offering employment, housing or public accommodations, such as hotel rooms or restaurants. Federal law includes some limited protections, but Missouri law currently contains no provision against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The proposal would amend the existing City Code to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories when it comes to employment, public housing and public accommodations.

The Mayor's Commission on Human Rights, a citizen board in charge of investigating and mediating discrimination complaints, brought the proposal forward. It draws heavily on a law in Columbia.

How would the ordinance be implemented?

Complaints would come to the Commission and if mediation fails, Commission members, who are appointed by council, would be able to refer cases to the municipal prosecutor for enforcement. Potential penalties include a fine up to $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail.

Religious entities and their affiliated nonprofits are exempt from the proposal, which is detailed in the proposed ordinance and existing City code.

"We had nothing in our code to grant a religious exemption to religion-based or affiliated employers for the added categories of sexual orientation and gender identity. Since the proposal is to extend employment coverage to add sexual orientation and gender identity, we had to put a religious exemption in the employment section," City Attorney Dan Wichmer explains.

There is not an explicit exemption for religious entities in the public accommodations section of the existing City Code because it is the City Attorney's opinion that the church and religious-based entities are not public accommodations, so no exemption is necessary.

city of springfield

Office of the City Clerk

840 Boonville Avenue • P.O. Box 8368 • Springfield, MO 65801
417-864-1651 • Fax: 417-864-1649 • springfieldmo.gov