Friday, February 1, 2013

Petition To Repeal Omaha LGBT Ordinance Fails

By Chris Dyer | OMAHA, NE -- A grassroots petition effort led by local churches and family values organizations in Omaha has failed to gather enough signatures in time to launch a referendum to repeal the ordinance passed last year that gives legal protections for the city's gay and transgender residents.
The Omaha Liberty Project, sponsor of the petition effort, needed to submit roughly 11,400 valid resident signatures to city officials Friday to potentially force a vote in May's general election.
According to Patrick Bonnett, the group's executive director, Omaha Liberty Project volunteer petition circulators led months of signature gathering and community-organizing efforts but didn't collect enough signatures to account for potentially ineligible entries. Bonnett acknowledged his organization missed the deadline to place the repeal issue on the primary ballot.  
“We've got to be pretty darn close to the number we need,” said Bonnett adding; “Darn close, but we just didn't get it.”
Bonnett said the Liberty Project's campaign got a late start and had to spend much of the holidays bringing voters up to speed on the ordinance.
“We were very, very shocked at how few people were in tune with the issue,” he said.
The Omaha World Journal reported:
The City Council once rejected such protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents before revisiting the issue last spring. Tensions spiked during a marathon public hearing, punctuated by local celebrities such as Husker football assistant coach Ron Brown and filmmaker Alexander Payne.
Talk of a petition drive to overturn the ordinance bubbled up almost immediately after the council's 4-3 vote last March to approve it. Supporters planned a competing get-out-the-vote effort. 
The law, which went into effect last spring, gives gay and transgender residents the ability to file complaints with the city's Human Rights and Relations Department if they believe they were fired from a job because of their sexual orientation, suffered other workplace discrimination or were refused a public accommodation. Employers could be subject to civil penalties if found culpable. Religious organizations are exempt from the regulations. 
Six complaints have been submitted to date, said City Human Resources Director Richard O'Gara. One complaint has been investigated and dismissed, O'Gara said, while the rest are being scrutinized under a lengthy investigative process.
“It just takes time,” O'Gara said.
Bonnett insisted that his group will continue the efforts to repeal the LGBT ordinance. The petition drive sought adoption of an ordinance to remove sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes within the City of Omaha and for City of Omaha contracts. With enough signatures, the proposal would be forwarded to the City Council, which has the authority to enact or reject the proposal within 30 days of receiving it. It would go to a public vote if the council didn't act.
If organizers gather enough names, they could turn in ballots at a later date. But they'd likely have to wait until the next election: the 2014 primary.
The number of signatures required to get the issue on the ballot then would depend on voter turnout for this year's general city election — the requirement is 15 percent of the turnout in the most recent election.
“We're proud of our petition drive,” Bonnett said. “The city has plenty of time to have the discussion. ... We're looking forward to continuing the whole conversation.”
The World Journal also reported that the coalition opposed the expansion of the city's anti-discrimination laws to include LGBT residents included more than 200 local clergy.