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Wichita City Council narrowly approves anti-discrimination ordinance

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 5:17 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update: The Wichita City Council approved an anti-discrimination ordinance, 4-3, on Tuesday.

Some of the council members said they had concerns about the way the vote on the ordinance was handled. They felt like it was rushed through, not fully vetted, and did not go through District Advisory Boards.

Tuesday’s vote followed a first reading of the ordinance. A second reading will take place on July 6 as “unfinished business.” At this time, the council could make changes after getting more feedback and doing more research.

The debate that took place Tuesday wasn’t over the order itself, but rather the quick process that brought it to a vote. The ordinance prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of factors like age, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. It implements fines of at least $500. It was this enforcement language that caused part of the tensions during Tuesday’s meeting.

For two hours, the Wichita City Council heard from Wichitans, including those with Equality Kansas whose mission is to fight for civil rights for LGBTQ people in the state.

“This ordinance would ensure protection for all of the people in the list,” said Equality Kansas Chair Kerry Wilks.

The ordinance ultimately passed by the council was amended to include enforcement violators facing at least a $500 fine.

“It’s important that local municipalities present non-discrimination ordinances because oftentimes, we get caught up with the idea that those protections re in place with the state level or the federal level, but what we find out is they actually are not,” said Rep. Stephanie Byers, D-Wichita. ]

Table of Hope Community Church Senior Pastor Jackie Carter added that it is “extremely important that we have in pace ways that every single person can be protected and honored.”

Wichita City Councilmember Jared Cerullo said the ordinance getting to a vote was rushed and unprepared.

“I absolutely think Wichita deserves, 100 percent deserves a non-discrimination policy, ordinance in place with tough teeth enforcement, but it needs to be vetted through the public, no matter what,” he said.

While emotions ran high, the vote, ended with 4 “yeses” to 3 “nos” on the first reading of the ordinance.

The Wichita City Council at its next meeting Tuesday, June 15, is scheduled to debate an anti-discrimination ordinance that was repealed in 1999. The group “Equality Kansas” says it’s been asked to draft amendment language for the new ordinance that is currently worded to be unenforceable if a victim was to file a complaint.

“So, I think at first, there was some pushback. it seems like we are all on board,” Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple said. “Hopefully, the council is on board as well, but at this point, I’m not sure. We’ll just have to see how the votes come in.”

The proposed new ordinance would specifically ban discrimination within City Hall and require contractors doing business within the city to certify that they don’t discriminate either.

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