The Sedgwick County Republican and Democratic parties have joined the debate on a proposed ordinance to ban discrimination within Wichita city limits, but both parties have provided inaccurate information to their constituents.
The Republican missive, a party email and fundraising appeal opposing the ordinance, confuses what the Wichita city council passed on June 15 with a proposal that the council rejected during the same meeting.
The Democratic response, in favor of the ordinance, incorrectly pointed out the potential fines that could be imposed on companies under what the board approved.
In all likelihood, positions on both sides are likely to be overtaken by events.
While the June 15 ordinance has obtained preliminary approval, what the city calls a “first reading,” it will likely be replaced with a completely different ordinance when it returns to council for a second reading on July 6.
The replacement ordinance is modeled on the Overland Park anti-discrimination law and is much more detailed than the version from the June 15 meeting.
Wichita City Council is technically non-partisan. But competing position papers from political parties have muddied the waters as town hall debated an important, possibly pivotal, ordinance for Wichita’s minority communities.
In their message to voters, Republicans criticized the ordinance as a “terrible and dangerous idea.”
“With federal and state laws already making discrimination illegal, this hastily written municipal ordinance would create even more problems and confusion,” the GOP message said. “This will allow the government to pick winners and losers in all situations. . . There is simply no room for frivolous local mandates that cannot be enforced.
Here’s what the Republicans got wrong:
▪ They said the ordinance would allow Mayor Brandon Whipple to “create a new council, made up of 20 appointees” to investigate complaints and impose fines of up to $ 2,000 per day. This is not what the council adopted. The idea of a 20-member human rights commission was contained in a proposal that was dropped by the council with little discussion at the June 15 meeting. But even if it had passed, the people appointed by Whipple would have had to be confirmed by a majority in city council.
▪ Republicans also mistakenly assumed that the Human Rights Commission could act on anonymous complaints. Again, the approved ordinance would not have created this commission, leaving the investigation of discrimination complaints in the hands of the city attorney’s office. And if the council had created the commission, it would have been obliged to seek conciliation between the identified parties before coercive measures could take place.
Republican Party Chairman David Thorne did not return a phone message or email requesting comment.
Democrats strongly supported the ordinance.
“This proposed ordinance aims to create a city that lives out its values through its laws and actions,” said Democrats’ response to the GOP, which was sent to members of their party. “We remain committed to fighting for equality and inclusion for all. Not only because it’s part of our constitution, but because it’s our inherent right.
Here’s what the Democrats got wrong:
▪ In their response to the Republican message, Democrats claimed the GOP was wrong about the city having the power to impose fines of up to $ 2,000 a day, claiming the ordinance provided for up to 2 $ 000 per violation. The Republicans were right on this point. The order that was passed specified mandatory fines of $ 500 for the first offense, $ 1,000 for the second offense and $ 2,000 for the third and subsequent offenses. Under the ordinance, each day that a discriminatory practice continued was defined as a separate offense, so it was correct to say that fines could add up on a daily basis.
Joseph Shepard, Chairman of the Sedgwick County Democrats, accepted responsibility for the mistake on the Democrats’ side and said he did not understand that every day could be considered a new violation.
“I can recognize it and I would quickly apologize and correct it because I think it is my moral obligation,” he said. “We can’t send a fact-checking email and when we’re verified it’s not correct. I’m definitely corrected and assume I should have asked for a better understanding before including this.
The confusion may have arisen due to the unorthodox manner of the ordinance.
It was originally based on a Topeka ordinance which prohibits discrimination against any person on the basis of “age, color, disability, family status, gender identity, genetic information, national origin. or ancestry, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, veteran status, or any other factor protected by law.
But this Topeka ordinance has no implementing provisions.
LGBTQ rights activists, including the national Human Rights Campaign and state group Equality Kansas, criticized the ordinance as toothless and spent the weekend before the June 15 meeting working with the mayor on proposals for an enforcement mechanism to be submitted to the board.