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Government

Wichita Delays Further Action On Non-Discrimination Ordinance

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The Wichita City Council voted 5-2 to table a proposed non-discrimination ordinance until at least Oct. 12.

Wichita’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance seemed likely to pass on Tuesday after City Council members gave it initial approval last week.

But after about three hours of public comment on the new policy, the council voted 5-2 to table the ordinance until at least Oct. 12.

The ordinance would ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on factors such as age, race, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation. Complaints would be investigated, and the city could enforce a penalty of up to $2,000 for violations.

More than a dozen other cities in Kansas have similar ordinances.

“We are the 49th largest city in America,” said Noah Blanco of Wichita. “It’s about time we started acting like it. … We’re on the cusp of being able to use this as a platform for even more progress for equity and equality in this city.”

Of the hours of public comment heard since the policy was first introduced last month, much of it has been from supporters who say the protections are necessary, particularly for members of the LGBTQ community.

But many residents say the ordinance could infringe on their religious rights, though religious and fraternal organizations are exempt under the policy.

“There’s a ton of fear,” said Jeff Bennett with the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas. “There’s a lot of anxiety and stress about our First Amendment rights as people of faith.”

Council members who voted to extend discussions say the public hasn’t had enough time to review the ordinance, which has now gone before the council three times in three different forms. And they pointed out there are similar protections at the state level.

Members also said the ordinance is too divisive.

“Make no mistake, I support a non-discrimination ordinance,” said council member Cindy Claycomb. “I just cannot brush aside the division in our community without addressing their concerns and their aspirations.”

She and four other members — Jeff Blubaugh, Becky Tuttle, Jared Cerullo and Bryan Frye — voted to table the ordinance for 90 days. In the meantime, they can present the policy to their District Advisory Boards for feedback and hold a public workshop.

Vice Mayor Brandon Johnson said the extra time is unnecessary.

“No matter how long this takes, the only thing that will change is that this ordinance will stay the same, or it will get weakened,” he said.

“Whenever this comes back to council as is, as long as it’s still strong and the process is still there, I’m a yes. If it comes back weakened, I have questions.”