The Norman Transcript

February 25, 2012

Reynolds seeks to restrict city policies on discrimination

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — A state representative who has previously pledged to return Oklahoma to traditional Judeo-Christian precepts has authored a bill which would strip rights from Norman and other municipalities if passed.

State Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, introduced House Bill 2245 to limit nondiscrimination ordinances for municipal employees by restricting those protections to only those also provided for state employees under Oklahoma statute. If approved, the act would become effective Nov. 1.

HB 2245 is scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Monday. Calls seeking comment from Rep. Reynolds Friday were not returned.

Leaders from several equality groups, including ACLU-Oklahoma, The Equality Network, Oklahomans for Equality, and Cimarron Alliance joined their voices on Friday in condemning HB 2245, saying the measure would strike down nondiscrimination policies for municipal employees that include classes not protected under state employee nondiscrimination policies.

The state’s nondiscrimination policy does not encompass marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or political affiliation. The city of Norman’s equal opportunity protections include political affiliation as a protected category.

According to section 200 of the city’s personnel manual regarding equal opportunity, “All employees and applicants shall be assured fair treatment in all aspects of personnel administration without regard to political affiliation, race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, religion, or creed, and there shall be proper regard for their privacy and constitutional rights as citizens.”

“Section 200 of the City’s Personnel Manual includes political affiliation in recognition of United States Supreme Court precedent which holds that political affiliation is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” said Norman City Manager Steve Lewis.

“I am surprised that Rep. Reynolds is contradicting his conservative beliefs which would not have government interfering on local decisions,” said Norman council member Tom Kovach. “How a municipality makes decisions about its employee policy should be strictly up to local control.”

Kovach said he will go to the state capitol to make his voice heard on this issue.

This is not Reynolds’ first action on what many perceive as a gay rights issue. In January, he proposed HB 2195 to reinstate the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy implemented by federal law in 1993. The Obama administration’s repeal of the policy took effect Sept. 20. According to media reports, Reynolds said the state has the authority to set standards for the National Guard and need not follow national military policy.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” bill was referred to the rules committee on Feb. 20.

Reynolds represents state House District 91 which includes portions of Cleveland and Oklahoma counties. He is an ordained deacon and a member of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

If passed, HB 2245 will eliminate protections many Oklahoma municipalities have recently put into place regarding nondiscrimination policy including sexual orientation.

In November, Oklahoma City’s city council voted 7-2 to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policies for public employees. The Norman Human Rights Commission has been working with the Norman city attorney’s office on a similar policy, but a formal proposal has not been placed before the Norman City Council at this time.

Norman city administrators maintain the city’s merit-based employee policy limits the need for special provisions. Other cities across the state currently have nondiscrimination policies such as the one adopted in Oklahoma City.

Tulsa, Del City, Altus, McAlester, Miami and Vinita adopted similar policies to protect public employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. There are more than 360 municipalities nationwide with similar policies, according to The Equality Network.

Reynolds’ proposed legislation would negate those protections in Oklahoma if passed.

A grassroots Norman group, Mothers of Many, has petitioned the Norman Human Rights Commissioner for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender protections in the city of Norman employee manual. MOM opposes HB 2245.

“MOM believes we all share responsibility for one another in matters of social justice,” MOM member Cindy Cason said. “We call on our legislature to stop the flow of talent leaving our state because of legislation such as HB 2245. We believe our state and city government leaders need to make a clear statement that Oklahoma is committed to creating a workplace free of discrimination. State and city laws, policy and training, must specify a clear, comprehensive approach to managing diversity, practicing equal employment, and engaging in affirmative efforts to create and maintain an environment that supports and encourages the contributions of all employees.”

The ACLU sees the bill as a challenge to civil rights.

“It is bad enough when short-sighted politicians and demagogues stand in the way of progress, but it is even more offensive when those same forces conspire to take away civil rights that have already been won,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma in a press release on Friday.

Others argue HB 2245 would set Oklahoma backward in its move toward economic and job growth.

“It is extremely important that Oklahoma address the challenges of our state’s economy and have the ability to attract companies that will utilize our workforce, as well as bring new workers to Oklahoma,” said Nancy McDonald of Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. “One of the factors that companies consider is whether or not our municipalities and counties have proactive and preemptive employment practices. This must include nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. By doing so, a welcoming environment is created and all employees are empowered to contribute to the welfare of their company, their city, and their state. Let us move Oklahoma forward.”

Joy Hampton 366-3539 jhampton@ normantranscript.com