(Update: On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee defeated the bill in a 6-5 vote.)
An Oklahoma legislative bill, if passed, would prevent cities from expanding their anti-discrimination employment policies beyond that offered by state government and nullify any existing policies that do so.
Currently, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is not protected under the state employment anti-discrimination law. Consequently, House Bill 2245, sponsored by Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, would nullify LGBT-related, anti-discrimination policies in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Miami, McAlester, Del City, Vinita, Altus, and Vinita. A LGBT anti-discrimination policy has been under consideration in Norman as well.
Reynolds, pictured right, is considered a staunch conservative on social issues. His legislative profile mentions that he’s an “Ordained Deacon and a member of Southern Hills Baptist Church.” He has been an outspoken supporter of creating an anti-abortion law that would grant personhood status to a fertilized human egg in Oklahoma
The organization Oklahomans for Equality has issued an advocacy alert about the legislation, which is scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, Feb. 27. The organization urges people to contact the committee’s members and speak out against the bill.
The bill can be viewed as an obvious attempt to roll back anti-discrimination policies protecting the LGBT community in Oklahoma, though there’s been little media hype over the bill. (Here’s an excellent Norman Transcript article on the issue.) The chances of the bill’s approval remain uncertain.
Here’s the main text of the short, one-page bill:
Municipalities may enact nondiscrimination ordinances for municipal employees, but not more restrictive than the nondiscrimination laws for state employees provided for in Section 954 of Title 74 of the Oklahoma Statutes. Any existing or future order, ordinance or regulation which conflicts with this provision shall be null and void.
Here’s the law to which the bill refers:
§74 954. Discrimination in state employment.
It is hereby prohibited for any department or agency of the State of Oklahoma, or any official or employee of the same for and on behalf of the State of Oklahoma: to refuse to employ or to discharge any person, otherwise qualified, on account of race, color, creed, national origin, age, handicap, or ancestry; to discriminate for the same reasons in regard to tenure, terms, or conditions of employment; to deny promotion or increase in compensation solely for these reasons; to publish an offer of employment based on such discrimination; to adopt or enforce any rule or employment policy which so discriminates as to any employee; or to seek such information as to any applicant or employee or to discriminate in the selection of personnel for training solely on such basis. These provisions shall be cumulative and in addition to existing laws relating to discrimination in the classified service.
Here are some reasons HB 2245 is a bad bill and should be defeated:
- The LGBT community needs anti-discrimination protection. The country and even conservative Oklahoma has come a long way in recent years in recognizing gay rights, but discrimination continues to exist. The bill, itself, is an example of what can be perceived as an action of discrimination.
- The bill not only denies civil rights, it actually takes away civil rights. It’s simply preposterous that the state government would interfere legally with cities granting anti-discrimination protection to its workers. What’s the point of city elections, city councils and city boards if the state can simply nullify local policy at its legislative whim? This is an unnecessary intrusion.
- The bill represents a huge rollback in Oklahoma progress. The fact that the state’s two largest cities have anti-discrimination polices related to sexual orientation helps Oklahoma’s overall image and its business climate. That would change if the bill is signed into law.
- The state should actually learn a lesson from Oklahoma City and Tulsa and change its anti-discrimination employment policies to include the LGBT community.