Casper City Council votes 8 to 1 for new anti-discrimination law, adds age protections at first reading

CASPER, Wyo.– On Tuesday, the Casper City Council voted 8 to 1 at first reading in favor of a proposed new anti-discrimination ordinance. It would have to pass two more readings to become law.

Before voting on the ordinance, the city council considered an amendment suggested by Deputy Mayor Bruce Knell to add “age” as one of the characteristics protected under the proposed anti-discrimination law. The council voted 9-0 in favor of this amendment, with council member Steve Cathey, who voted against the ordinance itself, voting yes to the amendment.

The ordinance would provide new protections against bias-motivated violence as well as discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation. The protections would apply to anyone discriminated against because of their race, color, religion, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, disability or, with the amendment passing on Tuesday, age.

Wyoming State Rep. Pat Sweeney, who lost in the Republican primary race for another term, told the City Council he was happy to see them enact bias-motivated crime protections, noting that such efforts failed in the Wyoming Legislative Assembly.

Attorney Keith Nachbar spoke out against the draft order. Nachbar, who said he served as a municipal judge for 18 years in Casper, noted that age was not initially included as a protected characteristic. His comments prompted the amendment, which the board adopted later in the meeting.

Nachbar added that he thinks enough federal protections against discrimination already exist in areas such as employment. As the proposed order seeks to deal with discrimination as a criminal matter rather than a civil matter, Nachbar said he thinks Casper’s employers should be concerned that enforcement of the order may depend on search warrants and police searches of employers’ properties.

“This city foray should have every business owner in this city worried and considering relocating,” he said.

Knell and council member Kyle Gamroth later said the city council had received communication from a number of employers expressing their support for the proposed ordinance.

Kyle True expressed concern about the order and what he described as a lack of clarity in terms of the definitions of the protected characteristics listed therein. He also said he thought it might be difficult to clearly define “hate” and that the proposed order might go in a direction that penalizes people for holding different beliefs.

Knell pulled an example from football to explain why he thinks it’s appropriate to offer protections when someone is specifically targeted, noting that the NFL offers protections for quarterbacks in certain situations.

“Why does this quarterback get special treatment over anyone else on the field?” asked Knell. “Because he’s vulnerable, because he’s in a vulnerable place. And there must be rules in place to protect the vulnerable. »

Council member Amber Pollock said she believes the order protects everyone, not just minorities. She said everyone is covered by the protected characteristics because everyone has things like race, national origin and sexual orientation. If someone in the majority were to be explicitly targeted for a protected characteristic, the order’s protections would also apply to them, Pollock said.

As for the need to consider intent and motive when dealing with acts of violence or destruction, Pollock gave an example.

“It’s more harmful for someone to spray paint a swastika on a synagogue than it is for someone to go spray paint a random symbol in an alley in Casper,” she said. “One of those things is property damage, which is a crime in itself. But one of them is damage to property with the intent to intimidate or incite violence against a particular group of people. In this case, it is not only the owner who has been victimized, it is the whole population that shares this identity.

“That’s why for me it’s more than appropriate to treat these crimes differently, because the impact is different.”

Council member Lisa Engebretsen said she is an employer who works in real estate and has personally experienced sexual harassment and also sees tenants facing discrimination. She said cases were happening daily.

“I saw all kinds of things, probably 10 different incidents just today,” Engebretsen said, taking issue with the idea that Casper is somehow immune to discriminatory behavior.

After resident Dennis Steensland questioned the need for the order, suggesting it could only protect around 100 people, council member Jai-Ayla Southerland said she did not believe the number of protected persons is important.

“I think it doesn’t matter if there are 5 or 5,000 people here affected,” she said. “Every member of our community matters and deserves to feel safe.”

In her dissenting opinion, Cathey said he believes the order is based on an approach that divides people into different groups rather than bringing them together. Although he said respecting and treating others with dignity is important, he doesn’t think it can be legislated.

“It has to come from within,” he said.

Mayor Ray Pacheco said he believes that with most states having passed anti-discrimination laws, Wyoming should not be proud of its “independence” on this issue “when the rest of the country chooses to see hate for hate’s sake”.

Pacheco said he felt confident to support the order and would support it through all three reading processes. Full comments from council members and residents can be viewed in the video recording of Tuesday’s meeting:

While there are federal laws in place protecting against discrimination, the proposed ordinance would create new penalties at the municipal level. The fine for violating housing, employment and public accommodation prohibitions on discrimination contemplated in the draft order would be $750.

The proposed order would also create new, tougher penalties if a Casper city judge decides, based on evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt, that a person has committed assault or incitement to violence against a person because of his race, his color, his religion. , ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin or disability.

The proposed order outlines the burden of proof requirements as follows:

Burden of proof. Investigations into alleged violations of this Code are undertaken on the basis of strong evidence of reasonable suspicion that the violation occurred because the actions of the alleged perpetrator were based on one or more protected characteristics of the victims. Reasonable suspicion is best demonstrated by expressions of bias, hatred, or prejudice, made or encouraged by the perpetrator at or near the time of the alleged violation, or by sustained behavior that demonstrates the perpetrator’s motivation. author. Violations of this section of the code must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Casper’s current order provides for fines of up to $750 for a first assault. A Casper Municipal Court judge can impose fines of up to $750 and jail time of up to six months for a second assault. The enhanced penalty that would be created by the proposed order would give the judge the ability to sentence someone up to six months for a first offense if the assault is found to be bias-motivated.

The proposed ordinance was drafted by City Attorney John Henley with input from members of the council’s LGBTQ advisory committee and input from Casper City Council members who attended a meeting in Cheyenne and learned that a anti-discrimination ordinance had been adopted there.

More background on the proposed new order is available in this article.

A memo from Henley and the full draft order can be viewed below:

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