The Pocatello City Council on April 18 narrowly rejected an ordinance intended to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination, bucking the direction set by three other Idaho cities that have recently passed antidiscrimination ordinances for sexual orientation.
The ordinance, similar to protections passed in Sandpoint, Boise and Moscow in the last 15 months, would have criminalized discrimination in cases of housing, employment and use of public services.
The Idaho State Journal reports Mayor Brian Blad cast the deciding vote breaking a 3-3 tie.
The ordinance would have made discrimination based on sexual orientation a misdemeanor, punishable with fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail. State law already makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on other factors including race, gender and religion.
But the plan faced resistance from council members who argued making discrimination a crime goes too far.
City councilman Craig Cooper said he objects to discrimination in all forms, but said imposing civil penalties would be a more appropriate punishment.
“My vote last night was not in favor of discrimination, my vote last night was in opposition to the way the ordinance was written,” he told The Associated Press April 19. “I think there are people who are unaware of what’s going on and it’s just not a healthy thing to criminalize in my mind.”
The vote April 18 comes a month after state lawmakers denied a formal hearing on a proposal to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s Human Rights Act. Supporters, however, were given the chance to make their case to lawmakers during an informal listening session in March.
In April, the Pocatello City Council held its own public forum where residents supporting the ordinance dominated the three-hour hearing.
Councilman Roger Bray, who voted for the ordinance, said he’s concerned opponents don’t understand Idaho law already makes other forms of discrimination a misdemeanor. This plan, he said, would put punishment in LGBT discrimination cases in line with existing state law.
Ultimately, he said, the LGBT community deserves the same rights as other protected classes.
“The most important thing is to make people feel they’re valued enough and they will not be discarded should they want to file a criminal complaint for something that’s happened to them, but do not want to because of the repercussions that could come because they’re not protected in this arena,” he told the AP.
Blad says city officials will continue to work on the issue. After the vote, Blad scheduled a May 9 work session to discuss a new version that could be introduced as early as June. He said the proposed ordinance has split the community and it’s his goal now to draft an ordinance most people could accept.