Civic

County Proposes Nondiscrimination Ordinance

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara tells commissioners about a nondiscrimination ordinance in the works that will protect children and help all feel welcome in restaurants and hotel lobbies.

AshevilleAt the Buncombe County Commissioners’ most-recent worksession, Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Parker Sloan introduced a proposal for a nondiscrimination ordinance (NDO) they’ve been working on for months. As an aside, Beach-Ferrara just raised over $100,000 in her bid to run for Congress against Madison Cawthorn. 

In her video announcement, she began, “Some people will say a gay woman who’s a Christian minister just can’t get elected in the South – not to mention she’s a Democrat – when I say an insurrectionist who flirts with Nazis, fires up a violent crowd to attack our democracy, well he shouldn’t get re-elected anywhere.”

There was a sense of urgency because a section of House Bill 142 (HB142), which prohibits local governments in the state from passing their own NDOs, expired December 1, 2020. The legislation was described in its adoption as a compromise repeal of HB2, the controversial “bathroom bill.” While law after law is written to guarantee equal protection under it, HB142 forbade local governments to allow public, omni-gender, multiple occupancy bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms, without state authorization. 

Since the ordinance is still in the sausage-making stages, Beach-Ferrara spoke only in terms of intended outcomes. She described it as making Buncombe County, “a welcoming place for all people.” Beach-Ferrara said she keeps hearing from constituents about discrimination in “public accommodations,” which she described as restaurants, hotel lobbies, and homeless shelters. The ordinance, she said, “would provide protections for folks around parts of identity including sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran status, pregnancy, religious beliefs or nonbeliefs.”

The latest draft, Beach-Ferrara said, focused on education, with enforcement to be via civil, not criminal penalties. A lot of work going into the ordinance, therefore, was spent discussing “how to build out a civil enforcement mechanism.” She said since December 1, Orange County and five municipalities of various sizes had adopted NDOs, and NDOs in an additional 10-15 municipalities are currently in various stages of development. All told, “…300 communities had passed NDO’s in recent decades,” so, she said, the county had a wealth of working models.

“As part of the LGBTQ community,” Beach-Ferrara was taking the matter “very personally.” As a mother of three, she said the ordinance should help LGBTQ children feel equal and valued and give them “every chance in the world; which may not be the message they’re getting at home, at school, or other parts of their lives.”

Sloan picked up, saying members of the LGBTQ community still lack, “explicit, persistent protections” by all levels of government. He cited a study conducted by the Center for American Progress at the University of Chicago last October that found a third of Americans identifying/expressing as LGBTQ “faced discrimination of some kind in the past year;” the number being three-fifths for those identifying/expressing as transgender. Worse, 3/20 of LGBTQ Americans postponed or avoided medical treatment due to fears of discrimination; the rate for transgenders being double that.

Other statistics included: half of transgenders reporting “moderate or significant negative psychological impacts” from discrimination; over half, “hiding a personal relationship;” and a third, “having to teach their doctor about transgender individuals in order to receive appropriate care.” Reported instances of physicians violating the Hippocratic Oath described doctors as “visibly uncomfortable,” “intentionally misgendering or using the wrong name,” “refusing to give healthcare related to gender transition,” being “physically rough or abusive when treating,” “using harsh or abusive language when treating,” and, outright “refusing to see the patient.” Other findings reported elevated economic and psychological stress in the LGBTQ community during the worst of the COVID crisis.

Beach-Ferrara said she planned to introduce a more finalized draft at the next commissioners’ meeting for discussion. The commissioners would then vote April 6.

In Other Matters –

County leadership sounded alarms over HB119, proposed state legislation for COVID relief that would allow business owners to enter into payment plans for property taxes and receive an off-cycle revaluation of their property if they could demonstrate occupational income losses of at least 25%. The commissioners already allow payment plans, and about 2,500 property owners are already taking advantage of that. 

The problem was, the law would allow property taxes already paid to be refunded. Tax Collector Jennifer Pike explained that was vexatious because most businesses had already paid, a lot of them were in the devastated hospitality industry, and several retail businesses have closed. Compounding refund losses, changes to revaluations would impact county budgets beyond this year.

Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Tim Love added the inability to know how many people would take advantage of the program introduced significant uncertainties in budgetary planning. On the bright side, the bill might fail due to its attempts to override of at least two very basic general statutes and tie business operations to property valuations, something Love called “a new concept.” 

The county did, at least, have sufficient revenue for corporate subsidy and real estate. The commissioners approved issuing economic development incentives to BorgWarner for expansion of its Arden plant. The county offered up to $460,000, payable over nine years. For the “invest x in the community, and create y jobs paying an average wage of z” part, those values were $62.25 million, 100, and $24.85/hour, respectively. The county also agreed to enter into a $150,000 contract for a study of how to dispense with the Ferry Road property, which the commissioners have been trying to do since they approved its purchase in an emergency meeting in 2014.

Editor’s note: It should be noted that Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara’s comments about US Congressman Madison Cawthorn are her opinions and have not been substantiated by this newspaper).

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