Sep. 26, 2017 — The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve a human rights ordinance that was first proposed more than four years ago.
In a 7-0 vote, the council passed the City of Birmingham Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which would put into place protections against discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or familial status. Violators of the ordinance could incur a fine of $100 for a first office, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for a third or subsequent offense.
The ordinance also calls for the establishment of an 11-member Human Rights Commission, which would be responsible for developing public education programs, managing complaints and presenting an annual report to the mayor and council on those complaints. The ordinance now goes to the mayor, who has said he would sign it.
The measure was first introduced by Council President Johnathan Austin in March 2013, though it wasn’t until recent months that it received serious consideration from the city’s law department. Austin previously blamed the delay in passing the ordinance on Mayor William Bell, wondering why he had “waited until the month before the runoff election to allow us to work with his law department.” A representative for Bell’s office told BirminghamWatch last week that the mayor had the city’s legal department draft the ordinance, and it was misleading to say Bell had only recently become interested in it.
The ordinance was open to public debate before the council’s vote, which drew a long line of speakers. Among them was state Rep. Patricia Todd, who was the first openly gay elected official in Alabama. Todd, a Crestwood resident, spoke in support of the ordinance, saying she had experienced discrimination from employers in her past.
“I look forward to living in a city that I feel safe in,” Todd said.
Only one speaker opposed the ordinance on religious grounds. Another questioned the vague language establishing the Human Rights Commission, arguing that discrimination issues should go before a court, not an extrajudicial body. Assistant city attorney Julie Barnard responded to the latter concerns by saying that the commission would have no enforcement power; that would remain with the courts, where discrimination would need to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Passed alongside the human rights ordinance was an amendment to city code to include nondiscrimination provisions in city contracts.
Austin has said he expects these ordinances to be challenged in the state legislature.
The council also voted to approve the following travel expenses: $586.77 for Amber Courtney, an administrative assistant in the mayor’s office, to attend a Brownfield Conference in Prattville; and $1,416.13 for Desmond Wilson, a public information multimedia specialist for the council, to attend the 2017 Public Affairs and Government Communications Summit in Dallas.