Worthington's proposed nondiscrimination ordinance is in line for a few more changes before being introduced to Worthington City Council, according to city leaders.

The Worthington Community Relations Commission presented a second draft of the ordinance to City Council on March 11.

City Manager Matt Greeson said the next step in the process would be to make some minor changes to the second draft before it is brought back to council members in April.

Lori Trego, staff liaison for the Community Relations Commission, personnel director and assistant to the city manager for Worthington, said the ordinance would be introduced formally to City Council on April 1 and scheduled for a public hearing on April 15, with a vote to follow.

The draft of the measure is available on the city's website, worthington.org. A public forum on the ordinance was held Feb. 27.

The commission, which is made up of nine community members appointed by City Council, issued the second draft March 7, Trego said.

The ordinance is intended to provide protections against discrimination of age, ancestry, color, disability, familial status, gender identity or expression, genetic information, marital status, military status, national origin, race, sex and sexual orientation, she said.

According to the city's website, protections would extend to housing, services, employment and "public accommodations" through Worthington. Under the ordinance, those who believe they have been discriminated against could file a "charge" with a Worthington city clerk.

Depending on the circumstances, the Community Relations Commission would proceed with an investigation or recommend a complaint be filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the ordinance. If mediation offered by the Community Relations Commission were unsuccessful, a cease-and-desist order and a fine would be issued by the city.

If someone fails to comply with a cease-and-desist order, the city could charge the respondent with failure to comply with the order, said law director Tom Lindsey. The draft of the ordinance would make it a criminal offense, a first-degree misdemeanor, he said.

This criminal charge could be filed in Worthington Mayor's Court or Franklin County Municipal Court, Lindsey said. It would be prosecuted similar to any other criminal offense, he said.

On March 11, Lindsey reviewed the changes from the first draft.

Lindsey said several things were clarified, including who would conduct determination hearings. Originally, the commission was to be responsible, but the clause was changed to have the city manager appoint a hearing officer after a consultation with the commission.

The second draft also added a religious exemption for "public accommodations," Lindsey said.

Lindsey said examples could include church housing provided for pastors, seminarians or religious communities, temporary assistance housing, food pantries or emergency-relief services. The exemption would permit a religious institution to restrict these goods or services to its members institution or allow members to receive first priority in the event of limited resources.

It also would exempt claims of discrimination if a religious institution requires that a person be a member of the institution in order to participate in religious services or receive sacraments, he said.

City Council members asked only a few questions about the ordinance.

One was from council member Scott Myers, who asked Lindsey to explain the language used on page 15 of the document that referenced fines for offenses.

The second draft said the hearing officer, in addition to issuing a cease-and-desist order, would have the authority to issue a fine of "up to $1,000 for a first offense in the five years preceding the filing of the charge." A $2,500 fine could be issued for a second offense in the five-year period preceding the filing of the charge and $3,000 could be issued for a third offense, according to the document.

Myers said the word preceding made the concept of a five-year period appear confusing.

Lindsey said the wording could be changed.

"That's why we aren't introducing it tonight," he said.

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