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Proposed Paducah Ordinance has Human Rights Commission Focus on LGBTQ Protections

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Matt Markgraf, WKMS
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  The Paducah Board of Commissioners introduced an ordinance this week that would overhaul the city’s Human Rights Commission.

The ordinance reduces the number of members from nine members to five, cuts the executive director and narrows the focus to complaints only from LGBTQ community.

 

All others, including  race, color, religion, sex, age, familial status, handicap or national origin- would be directed to the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.

The former Executive Director Bernice Belt and Chairman Gary Reese were the only members of the commission who were present in the conversation that shaped the ordinance.

 

Commissioner Robert Shy said he was not aware of the changes until the meeting this week. Shy said he is concerned the changes will lead to a less diverse, less attentive board.

 

Mayor Brandi Harless said the ordinance streamlines the process and might bring better results.

“We did a lot of work talking to the state to make sure that their processes and procedures were adequate. And it gave us a lot of confidence to know that these issues could be handled maybe even more seriously on the state level.” Harless said.

Harless said through her experience in organizational development work, fewer members make more efficient and effective boards. Harless said she believes the board of five can still be diverse.

“Diversity on a board like this has to be intentional. I don’t think that having more members will make it any more diverse.” Harless said. “I know that it’s up to the city commission to appoint board members and it’s up to us and to the community to hold us accountable to make sure we are creating diversity on that board no matter how many members there are.”

 

Shy said Paducah HRC needed “renewed confidence and credibility.” He said there is a lack of confidence from the community from previous leadership and that the commission needs to be revamped and restructured. He offered more training as a solution. Harless said she believes those who are on the board are already qualified.

Harless said she believes the changes will help the Paducah HRC become more effective. She said commission members would still help people with complaints fill out state paperwork and offer guidance. All LGBTQ complaints would be investigated by the Paducah HRC with legal assistance. The Kentucky Civil Rights Act (KRS 344) doesn’t include LGBTQ protections.

The Fairness Campaign is a nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy group. Chairman Chris Hartman says passing along human rights issues to the state is a common procedure for cities the size of Paducah. A measure to include definitions in the Kentucky Civil Rights Act failed to gain traction in the 2017 Regular Session.

 

Hartman said if it is ever implemented in the act, those complaints would probably be directed to the state as well. Until then, Hartman said, it’s up to local city governments to protect LGBTQ people.

“But in the meantime it’s up to cities and counties to extend those discrimination protections to the other classes of individuals and absent state law- it’s up to those cities, counties and municipalities to enforce those discrimination protections.”

Hartman said he believes Paducah’s proposed changes were modeled after recommendations by the Kentucky Commission On Human Rights. The ordinance will be up for a vote next Tuesday.  

 

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