Hilliard City Council to consider two versions of LGBTQ-protection legislation

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group

At their next meeting, Hilliard City Council members are poised to consider two ordinances that would provide civil-rights protections in broader arenas to the LGBTQ community, but each would chart different courses to achieve it.

The meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. May 24 at the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way. 

Both ordinances are expected to be introduced and receive a first reading then and advance to a second and final reading June 14.

The legislation is more than a year in the making. A version of one of the ordinances was presented to City Council in March, after which one council member, Omar Tarazi, decided to offer an alternate version.

Hilliard City Hall is at 3800 Municipal Way.

Cynthia Vermillion, the lone Democrat on City Council who was elected in 2019, and Andy Teater, a Republican and former Hilliard school board member, worked on their version of the legislation most of last year, Vermillion said.

They started early last year after such protections were discussed but not made part of revisions to the city charter in 2019 and also were not addressed in stalled legislation to amend the city code, Vermillion said.

Their efforts were revealed in February after a Hilliard Davidson High School administrator sent an email inviting students to support legislation for civil-rights protections – legislation that had not been introduced publicly and would not be until March.

“Hilliard has an opportunity to extend civil-rights protections to include members of the LGBTQ community, as well as add familial and marital status to the list of protected classes in three important areas of life: housing, employment and public accommodations,” Vermillion said.

It is necessary, she said, because federal and state lawmakers will not act to do so.

“Neither the state of Ohio nor the federal government has been able to pass these much-needed protections, so it falls to the local governments to do what is right for our people,” Vermillion said.

Although current state and federal laws provide protections based on race, gender, creed, religion and other benchmarks, they do not do so for traits of the LGBTQ community, Vermillion said.

The legislation also provides for the city’s law department to ascertain if any discrimination has occurred and to recommend remedy by either referring the case to state or federal jurisdictions or to adjudicate it locally, she said.

In contrast, Tarazi is taking a different approach and believes more time is needed to receive feedback from residents.

“Neither (ordinance) should go forward this evening. We should give the public more time (to provide input),” Tarazi said at a committee-of-the-whole council meeting May 10 after Vermillion asked for the legislation that she crafted to advance out of committee for a first reading that same evening, which would have resulted in a potential second and final reading May 24.

Kelly McGivern asked that because she would be absent May 24 that the first reading be held then to allow her to be present for a final vote June 14.

Council voted 6-1 to advance the first ordinance that originated with Vermillion and Teater out of committee and to the full council May 24. Tarazi voted against doing so.

Tarazi said he is opposed to the Vermillion and Teater's ordinance because it lacks enough substance to remedy the issues.

"(My legislation) is a substantive approach to this, while (the other) is a public-relations approach," he said May 12. "We should not pass ordinances as a political pressure tool" to get state or federal lawmakers to act.

While considering Tarazi’s alternate ordinance May 10, when discussion centered on his model for a conflict-resolution center, Vermillion asked that it be “more fine-tuned” before advancing “because you sure fine-tuned my ordinance.”

Vermillion and Teater's legislation had been discussed at multiple meetings of council committees leading up to May 10.

However, council members voted 7-0 to advance Tarazi's legislation onto the same track.

“I am comfortable to move them both of committee. ... We can do the fine-tuning (May 24),” council President Pete Marsh said.

The legislation proposed by Tarazi adds “sexual orientation or expression” to the city code concerning housing discrimination and ethnic intimidation, and it levies criminal penalties for abusive behavior, Tarazi said.

It also establishes a conflict-resolution center, based on a model used by the city of Bellevue in northern Ohio, and extends resolution services beyond LGBTQ issues.

How such a model would work in Hilliard is not yet determined but the city would “bring parameters” at a later time, City Manager Michelle Crandall said May 10.

Marsh said he is optimistic City Council would establish a policy.

“I think we’re getting somewhere,” he said after the legislation was placed on the May 24 agenda.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo