The Memphis Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance protecting city employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression passed its first reading by the Memphis City Council last night with 7 votes in favor, 6 no votes and 1 abstention.
Adoption on first reading for an ordinance is customary, but the usual courtesies and procedures given to most legislation by the council were thrown out last night. Watch the video of the proceedings beginning at 3:39:40.
Ordinances appear for first and second reading on what the Council calls its Consent Agenda. Council rules generally call for ordinances to be bundled and passed together in one motion after they are read. However, Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware informed the Council last night that she would vote against the entire Consent Agenda if it included Councilwoman Fullilove's Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Council rules allow for any member of the Council to object to an item on the Consent Agenda. Such objections place an item on the regular agenda to be acted on separately. Ware objected to the ordinance's inclusion on the consent agenda because the ordinance was sent to the full Council from the Personnel Committee without recommendation.
Councilwoman Fullilove attempted to salvage the situation by requesting that her ordinance be take back to committee for more discussion and a recommendation. However, Chairman Collins ruled that Fullilove's ordinance could be pulled out of the Consent Agenda and considered separately according to Council rules.
Before Fullilove's ordinance was voted on, Councilman Bill Morrison proposed a substitute ordinance to replace the original. Morrison's ordinance prohibited employment discrimination based on religion, race, sex, creed, political affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age or other nonmerit factors. Factors like sexual orientation and gender identity or expression were omitted. All of the non-merit factors listed in Morrison's ordinance are already covered by current municipal, state or federal law. A majority of Council members (including those who supported or opposed Fullilove's inclusive ordinance) voted against Morrison's substitute ordinance. Many council members objected to the substitute because the public was not given a chance to review the new ordinance. The substitute also ignored the original intent of Fullilove's LGBT-inclusive ordinance.
The Council then turned to consider Fullilove's inclusive ordinance. Seven members of the Council voted to adopt the ordinance on first reading. However, some of those yes votes were cast because council members wanted to give the public a full hearing of the legislation. Tennessee Equality Project is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the Council and Mayor AC Wharton support an inclusive ordinance. Supporters in Memphis need to do what it can to convince the Council that this ordinance merits passage at the second and third reading.
If you have not already done so, contact the Memphis City Council here and Mayor AC Wharton here to let them know you support LGBT-inclusive workplace protections in Memphis.
Plan to attend the Personnel Committee and full Council meeting for the second reading on Tuesday, August 24 at 8 AM and 3:30 PM, respectively. We need you at the same meetings on Tuesday, September 14.
Other media reports on yesterday's proceedings:
Out and About
WREG Channel 3