Saying the "failure" of Ohio lawmakers forced them to act, Reynoldsburg City Council is considering legislation to expand the city's anti-discrimination ordinance.

If approved by council, the legislation would "create safeguards and protections against discrimination and intimidation based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sex, disability, military status, family or marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and natural hair style and/or texture," according to a draft presented May 11 to council's public safety, law and courts committee.

Sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and natural hair style would be added as protected classes under the proposed ordinance.

Council is expected to vote on the legislation in June.

The ordinance is in response to Ohio House Bill 369 and Ohio Senate Bill 11, commonly referred to as the "Ohio Fairness Act," which would expand protections based on sexual orientation, gender identification and gender expression.

Both bills have stalled at the Statehouse.

"When Amazon was looking to choose their headquarters, they passed Ohio by because Ohio as a state didn't have anything to prohibit these discriminatory practices," said at-large councilwoman Kristin Bryant, who supports the changes. "The Ohio Chamber of Commerce has come out in support of the state act. If that doesn't tell you something about what the business community wants, I don't know what will. We're to the point where we need to stop deferring to the Statehouse and take matters into our own hands.

"We can't legislate human decency, but we can legislate that we want people in our town to be treated respectfully," she said.

Reynoldsburg's proposal would expand the city's anti-discrimination laws related to housing, employment and public accommodation practices.

It would provide legal protections "not guaranteed at the state or federal level," said Gwen Stembridge, engagement director with Equality Ohio, a statewide nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy group.

Stembridge said 29 cities in Ohio have similar ordinances, including Bexley, Westerville and Worthington.

Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland have enacted similar anti-discrimination measures, she said.

"We hope Reynoldsburg can be city No. 30," Stembridge said.

The ordinance also includes language about "ethnic intimidation," with increased penalties for offenses found to be motivated by animus, City Attorney Chris Shook said.

For example, Shook said, a recent Reynoldsburg Mayor's Court case involved an altercation over a parking space.

The offender was accused of leaving "a note on their car referring to that person by a racial slur and wishing death upon that person," he said.

Currently, Shook said, the most the culprit could be charged with is a minor misdemeanor -- "the equivalent of a traffic ticket."

"This will elevate the offense if the motivating factor was racial animus or some type of animus based on a person's protected class," he said.

The "natural hair style" component refers to House Bill 535, introduced by state Reps. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Cleveland) and Juanita Brent (D-Toledo).

Described as the CROWN Act (an acronym for creating a respectful and open world for natural hair), the bill would ban discriminatory policies in Ohio schools that penalize students, especially students of color, for wearing natural hairstyles that embrace their cultural identities, according to a March news release by Hicks-Hudson.

Under the act, schools would be prohibited from discriminating against anyone who wears a natural hairstyle or protective article that embraces a cultural identity.

The city's proposed ordinance provides recourse for people who believe they have suffered discriminatory acts or practices not otherwise protected by state or federal law. Written complaints would have to be filed with the city and sworn to under oath, within 180 days of the incident. If the charge of discrimination alleges a violation based on race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, disability, military status or any other class protected under state or federal law, then the complaint must be filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

According to the proposal, once a complaint is received, the city attorney's office would investigate to determine if there is probable cause to believe discrimination occurred. If so, a hearing officer would be appointed to conduct an administrative hearing.

The hearing officer could issue findings of fact and conclusions of law and could issue orders and impose sanctions, including administrative costs, attorney fees incurred by the complainant and a civil penalty of up to $2,500, according to the draft legislation.

The legislation provides exemptions for those seeking employment at a religious corporation, association, educational institution or society and "allows a religious institution to employ only those people of the same religion," Shook said.

Siobhan Boyd-Nelson said she grew up in east Columbus and spent a lot of time in Reynoldsburg. Raising a young son with her partner, Boyd-Nelson said, her family "stepped out on faith" when deciding to buy a home in Reynoldsburg eight years ago.

"Reynoldsburg has no laws to protect against discrimination against people like myself who are LGBTQ," Boyd-Nelson said. "Embrace the diversity that already exists here. Reynoldsburg is the city of respect; what better way to communicate respect than to acknowledge and protect all who call Reynoldsburg home?"

Several council members signaled support for the ordinance, including Bhuwan Pyakurel, Ward 3 councilman and the first Nepali-Bhutanese elected official in the U.S.

"I have had very difficult experiences in Reynoldsburg in the past," Pyakurel said. "Discrimination of any form should not be accepted."

The complete ordinance is on the city's website at tinyurl.com/y7an3sur.

Council's next meeting is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. June 8 at City Hall, 7232 E. Main St.

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