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Monday, September 30,2013

‘Feel-good legislation’

Political action committee of local human rights organization expresses ‘shock’ and ‘disbelief’ over Meridian Township board's debate of non-discrimination ordinance

by Andy Balaskovitz

This story was updated on Sept. 30 to include comments from Trustee Milton Scales.

Monday, Sept. 30 — The Lansing Association for Human Rights Political Action Committee expressed “shock and disbelief” toward three members of the Meridian Township Board of Trustees' concerns over a proposed non-discrimination ordinance there. Particularly, the group took issue with one trustee who called it “feel-good legislation.”

At a Sept. 17 board meeting, Trustee Milton Scales said, “We should not be doing feel-good legislation” when speaking about his opposition to such an ordinance. Scales believes that such protections — while he supports them for the LGBT community — should come from the state or federal government. He said that the maximum $500 penalty for violating the ordinance would not be a strong enough deterrent, whereas fines could reach up to tens of thousands of dollars for violating a statewide law. (Here's a link to video of the meeting. Scales' comments come shortly after the one-hour and nine-minute mark.)

“It was with shock and disbelief that LAHR PAC recently received reports that the Meridian Township Board has flinched in the process of passing an all-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance,” LAHR-PAC President Penny Gardner wrote Friday in a letter addressed to the board. “One trustee has been reported as saying discrimination protections in employment is ‘feel-good legislation.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, I can assure you that it does not feel good to be fired for being LGBT. Failing to adopt a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance will allow this type of anti-LGBT discrimination to persist in Meridian Township.”

Scales said today: "If someone wants to fire you" because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, "do you think $500 will do something about that? That's why I call it feel-good legislation."

Scales also said that the complaint-driven ordinance would overburden the township’s Human Resources Department and open the township up to litigation.

“We believe that it is vital that these protections are established on the local level and that, under the Michigan Constitution and the Charter Township Act, it is firmly within the authority of charter townships to adopt ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations,” Gardner wrote.

At the Sept. 17 meeting, Clerk Brett Dreyfus and Treasurer Julie Brixie also raised questions about the draft ordinance. Trustees Angela Wilson, John Veenstra and Ronald Styka support the ordinance.

Over the weekend, Dreyfus said that while he took time to ask questions, he is in support of the ordinance. That gives it the necessary four votes for final approval.

Brixie and township Supervisor Elizabeth LeGoff could not immediately be reached for comment.

The board plans to take up the legislation at its meeting Tuesday.

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