SOUTH BEND — The St. Joseph County Council voted 6-2 on Tuesday to approve a human rights ordinance with countywide protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, sex, age, disability and other characteristics.
It was a busy night for the governing body, which also voted 6-2 to approve a responsible bidder ordinance that would give preference to local companies that bid on the county’s public works projects.
Republicans Mark Root and Mark Telloyan voted against both proposals, and the only other Republican council member, Jamie O’Brien, was absent.
Both ordinances will be considered for final approval on Feb. 21 by the three-member county Board of Commissioners, the executive branch of county government that has a 2-1 Republican majority. Commissioners can veto ordinances. To override such a veto, a two-thirds vote would be required by the County Council.
Democratic council member Mark Catanzarite — who sponsored the human rights ordinance along with Democratic council members Diana Hess and Rafael Morton — encouraged other council members to approve it.
He said the measure sends a message that St. Joseph County “won’t tolerate discrimination in any way, shape or form. And it will certainly attract companies to move here.”
Patrick Mangan, president of South Bend-based Citizens for Community Values, was among those who opposed the ordinance based on moral concerns. He contended the measure is about “homosexuality” and “has nothing to do with anything else.”
“I care about everyone who struggles with sexual confusion and same-sex identity,” Mangan said. “I’ve been leading people out of it for almost 40 years now. I can tell you that the emotional pain is real, but the identity is not.”
He continued, “We’re seeing sexual molestation and problems in transgender bathrooms across the country, and pedophiles are using this type of legislation to get in the restroom.”
Mishawaka resident Whitney Young identified herself as a physically disabled transgender person, and she urged the council to pass the ordinance.
“It will have no negative impact on heterosexuals, white people or Christians … it’s only about protecting people in our society who have been historically discriminated against,” she said. “It’s also about protecting people who are perceived as gay and gender non-normative but who aren’t, necessarily. Just because you think people are gay, they might not actually be gay and can still be discriminated against.”
The ordinance would provide protections to ensure equal opportunity for employment, education and housing. Residents could bring discrimination complaints to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission for potential litigation.
The ordinance would exempt the same types of employers that South Bend’s human rights ordinance does, such as 501(c)(3) nonprofits, schools or charitable organizations that hire employees of a particular religion.
If the measure gets final approval, council members would consider partnering with the South Bend Human Rights Commission so that it would also investigate discrimination complaints made by county residents who live outside the city. Complaints could then be handled locally instead of at the state level.
The responsible bidder ordinance would give preference to local companies that bid on public works projects. It would give county commissioners — who approve contracts — the option to reduce bids by 5 percent if they’re made by firms located in the county for at least a year. As a result, such firms could be selected over out-of-town competitors.
Though it doesn’t mention unions, the measure would require companies to show evidence that workers have completed training and apprenticeship programs. Some nonunion shops don’t provide such training and would be excluded from bidding.
Democratic council member Robert Kruszynski, who co-sponsored the proposal with Hess, emphasized that the measure doesn’t mention unions.
“You’ll hear from many that this is a pro-union law, but the word doesn’t appear in the ordinance,” he said. “This would provide an equal playing field for all contractors — union and nonunion alike … It would screen out contractors that are less competent and pursue a lower-skilled workforce. They are more likely to have violations.”
Speaking against the ordinance was Justin Butler, owner of Niles-based Selge Construction. Butler said that he and several other company employees live in St. Joseph County and benefit the local economy.
He said that reducing bids from local companies by 5 percent would put his company at a disadvantage, even though it is just beyond the Indiana border in Michigan. And he said it would cause the county to pay more for projects.
“In the end the taxpayer loses — myself included,” he said.
Lakeville resident James Gardner contended that Michigan firms bidding on projects in the county put local firms at a disadvantage. He said the ordinance would help give local firms “a competitive edge to keep their employees right here.”
Source: South Bend Tribune