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Wichita city council approves non-discrimination ordinance

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 7:12 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Tuesday Afternoon Update: The City of Wichita on Tuesday became the 21st city in Kansas to have a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) in place.

The new measure comes after five months of public discussion and another marathon council meeting on Tuesday. It has been a long and at times contentious journey to the final 6-1 decision.

The new ordinance, which will go into effect next year, provides people an avenue to have discrimination cases heard and addressed at the city level, as opposed to the state and federal government, both of which can be a longer and more expensive process.

Tuesday’s hearing on the ordinance drew another large crowd at Wichita City Hall. Some speakers wanted to present its passage while others sought to get it approved.

“In the deepest part of my heart, I hope you make the right decision and vote yes in support of this ordinance,” said Wichitan Connie Dietz.

The ordinance prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on someone’s protected class: age, race, sexual orientation and gender.

Mayor Brandon Whipple has been its chief sponsor since the NDO’s introduction.

“A little bit in disbelief, but I am so grateful to live in a community that knew that this was our chance to push forward on this agenda of ensuring equality and civil right,” said the mayor.

The updated ordinance came back to the council after spending the last 90 days in front of the Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights (DICR) advisory board for review. The main recommendation was to have citizenship included as a protected class for housing and public accommodations.

Councilmember Jared Cerullo said he spent that time trying to find ways to improve and build a consensus on the NDO. As the only gay person on the council, he said the message this sends is discrimination won’t be tolerated in Wichita.

“We’re not talking about violating anyone’s religious freedoms. We’re talking about treating people equally and fairly,” said Cerullo.

Councilman Jeff Blubaugh of District IV was the lone dissenting vote.

“I’m not for discrimination. none of us are, we don’t want to see discrimination,” said Blubaugh.

He said his main objection to the ordinance is that there are already state and federal laws in place to handle issues with discrimination. He said he thinks they’re better handled on that level.

“What I don’t like us seeing is the city of Wichita being the policy police on this. You can’t legislate bad ethics and bad behavior,” Blubaugh said.

The NDO has religious exemptions and an effort to expand those for employment didn’t make it into the final version on Tuesday. Another change the council made is that the city will incur the cost of the mediator used for each case, at a cost of about $7,500 annually.

People will have up to 180 days to file a claim with the city after an incident of discrimination.

Penalties for violating the NDO include a $2,000 fine, educational requirements or community service.

Both the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce and Cargill support the non-discrimination ordinance saying it will help with recruiting and retaining employees.

It’s a debate that led to long lines outside the Wichita City Council meeting over the summer. Nearly 40 people spoke out at the July meeting to discuss a non-discrimination ordinance.

Since then, they’ve asked for more input including from a group of people appointed by council members and the mayor. On Tuesday, they will be recommending the newly revised non-discrimination ordinance, which would ban discrimination (NDO) in the city for housing, employment and public accommodations based on a protected class.

Shala Perez and Tabitha Lehman both sit on the city’s Diversity Inclusion and Civil Rights (DICR) Advisory Board. They were appointed by council members Becky Tuttle and Jeff Blubaugh. Both Perez and Lehman say they are in favor of the NDO.

“My hope is that people in Wichita, all feel welcomed and really have a good experience while they’re here, whether they’re employed here or visiting in this community,” said Perez.

“The important thing for people to understand is, the goal of this is to not take away someone else’s freedom, it’s to protect the freedom of people who are being marginalized right now,” said Lehman.

But not everyone on the DICR advisory board is in favor of the ordinance. That includes Pastor Dioane Gates. He says he wants to be clear - he still opposes injustice and discrimination.

“I’d like to see the city be more active on not just trying to police these particular laws. I think the city should be more focused on creating clear on-ramps for all those in our city that have been discriminated against, treated unfairly, experiencing injustice, how might they better take advantage of those laws that are already on the books,” said Gate.

The city has budgeted roughly $7,500 each year to investigate complaints as defined by the latest ordinance, which also contains amendments. Jennifer Magaña, the city attorney and director of law, said in a statement that each amendment will be voted on separately, and the city will continue to invite input by email or by speaking at the meeting.

The Wichita City Council will receive community input on the NDO at its weekly meeting on Tuesday at 9 a.m. at City Hall.

An Eyewitness News crew will be there. Be sure to follow updates on the KWCH 12 app.

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