Little Rock’s Board of Directors may be the next focal point of civil rights battles in Arkansas over protections for gender identity and sexual orientation. The introductory phase of an anti-discrimination ordinance is expected to be considered on Tuesday for placement on the board’s agenda.
The measure aims to provide legal protections for some of Little Rock’s LGBT population at the same time a state law is pending to ban local governments from enacting anti-discrimination protections.
City Manager Bruce Moore’s ordinance would prohibit discrimination both in employment with the city and in any business which contracts with Little Rock. The Dean of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Law School, John DiPippa, said the first part of the ordinance may still be in line with the new state law.
“The law specifically exempts ordinances that only apply to the city’s employees,” said DiPippa.
However, that second provision - about the city requiring vendors to agree to a non-discrimination clause in any contracts – gives At-Large Director Joan Adcock pause.
“What I have a problem with is how much can we tell a business that they have to do this to do business with us, if they’re tax payers, if they’re in the city of Little Rock and everything. That’s my questions for the city attorney,” said Adcock.
DiPippa says the contract-clause could run afoul of the newly passed state law. It will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, likely on April 22nd.
“Certainly, that’s not excluded by the state law,” said DiPippa. “If Little Rock is saying that we will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in our contracts, then that’s broader than 202 and it raises the legal question whether that is prohibited by 202.”
DiPippa said if Little Rock’s Board of Directors passes the ordinance before the state law goes into effect it could bolster legal challenges to the 90th General Assembly’s attempt to prohibit local governments from adding sexual orientation and gender identity to anti-discrimination rules.
“There is a sense that 202 really does interfere with local control and it sets up a potential lawsuit because it would clearly conflict with 202,” said DiPippa.
Eureka Springs has already passed an anti-discrimination ordinance. North Little Rock and Conway have pursued various protections as well.
Director Adcock said she is not interested in passing or not passing the ordinance as a response to actions emanating from elsewhere.
“I don’t see that we’ve a problem with this. I think that if we had a problem and brought it up it would be more appropriate.” said Adcock. “Just because the Legislature addressed it one way or the other should not make it a fast track on the city of Little Rock.”
The City Director for Ward 6, Doris Wright, also said she doesn’t see discrimination as a problem with city employment or vendors but generally supports an ordinance adding legal safeguards against discrimination.
“Apparently people believe that there is an issue. I have not known of any type of discrimination but then again I don’t know how other people have been treated. If there is a need for this I don’t have a problem for that. I want to make sure that everyone understands that the city of Little Rock is a welcoming place and that all are welcome, and if that’s the way to do that then I have no objection,” said Wright.
Wright represents the Broadmoor, John Barrow, and Brodie Creek neighborhoods. Director Kathy Webb has previously said she supports the ordinance. Directors Ken Richardson and Gene Fortson have also expressed general support for such an ordinance to the Arkansas Times. The City Board of Directors is a 10 person body.
KUAR has not received comment from Directors Erma Hendrix, Brad Cazort, Lance Hines, B.J. Wyrick or Dean Kumpuris. Mayor Mark Stodola has said he supports the proposal, saying it mirrors and affirms through an ordinance existing city policies. Stodola also voiced opposition to SB 202 during the legislative session.
Little Rock's proposal - applying to city employees and vendors that contract with the city - is far narrower than Fayetteville's short-lived ordinance that was repealed by voters. Fayetteville's ordinance barred discrimination against the city's LGBT population in both public and private housing, employment, and accommodations. Republican State Senator Bart Hester of the northwest Arkansas town of Cave Springs has said he sponsored SB202 in response to Fayetteville's drive to carve out civil rights protections for LGBT people.
The ordinance in Little Rock is up for introduction and agenda placement Tuesday evening and would not be considered for adoption until at the earliest next week.
Arkansas has no protections from discrimination in housing, employment, or accommodations based on gender identity and sexual orientation.