Tag Archives: ordinance

Milwaukee legislators offer ‘Sleeping in the Park’ bill

State Reps. Frederick Kessler, Jonathan Brostoff and David Bowen and Rep.-elect David Crowley are proposing legislation to prevent law enforcement officers from arresting or attempting to arrest a person for simply sleeping in a county park.

The measure is a response to the shooting death of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee on April 30, 2014, by a Milwaukee police officer. The officer had been responding to concern that Hamilton was sleeping in Red Arrow Park. Hamilton had been questioned by two other officers and was found to have been doing nothing more than sleeping.

He was questioned a third time in a situation that escalated to a fatal confrontation.

“Given the tragic death of Dontre Hamilton, it raises questions about the alleged violation he committed by simply sleeping in Red Arrow Park,” Kessler said in a press statement. “For that simple concern, Mr. Hamilton was confronted by two officers initially, on two occasions, and then later, after being questioned by a third officer, lost his life.”

Brostoff stated, “Public parks are for people, period. This legislation will help members of our community who simply want to enjoy a public park and decrease the sort of harassment that led to Donte Hamilton’s terrible demise.”

“If we do not govern to prevent this kind of human rights violation, who will?” asked Crowley. “For too long we have seen an erosion of human rights, especially in communities of color. We need to take proactive steps with legislation like this to ensure the rights of all citizens, without stifling the honorable work of law enforcement.”

The legislation would allow for police to arrest someone sleeping in a county park if that person is known to be wanted for arrest on other charges or the officer believes the individual is a threat to public health or safety. The measure also would provide for county ordinances that prohibit sleeping in a park, but limit the penalty for doing so to a forfeiture of not less than $10 and no more than $200, plus costs.

“There has to be more common sense,” Kessler said. “If you are merely sleeping in a county park, and an officer has no reason to believe you have committed another crime and there is no warrant for your arrest, then there is no reason to be arrested or questioned if all you are doing is sleeping. This legislation is a simple proposal and will hopefully prevent a tragedy such as that involving Dontre Hamilton from happening again.”

Alabama city votes to repeal ‘bathroom’ ordinance

The city council in Oxford, Alabama, has voted 3-2 to repeal a new ordinance that would have prevented transgender people from using public restroom facilities consistent with their gender identity.

This measure was unprecedented in its establishment of criminal penalties for violations — including a $500 fine or six months in jail — and raised privacy and legal concerns regarding how the law would have been enforced.

The council’s action during a special meeting this week came within a 10-day recall window.

Also, the ordinance had not yet been signed by the mayor.

“It’s a great day in the state of Alabama and we commend Councilperson Charlotte Hubbard for leading the recall effort,” said HRC Alabama state director Eva Walton Kendrick in a news release.

She continued, “This sends a welcome message of inclusion to Oxford’s families, businesses and visitors, and sets an example for other communities that may be considering similar legislation. Fair-minded Americans do not believe in discrimination, and we must continue to educate one another on the importance of being inclusive and welcoming to all.”

Prior to the council vote, the ACLU issued a series of statements on the issue:

“I love the City of Oxford. While I don’t wish to fight the city, my son is worth fighting for. I hope the council does the right thing and recalls this ordinance,” said Oxford resident Sherry Matthews, whose transgender son would have been impacted by the ordinance.

“This proposed ordinance, like the hundreds we’ve seen introduced in legislatures across the country, many of which we are challenging, will do nothing to protect privacy or public safety, but will unfortunately harm Oxford residents and others who come here — solely based on who they are. We urge the city council to stand on the right side of history and indeed on the right side of the law and not write discrimination into law,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama.

“Discrimination has no place in 21st century Alabama. Yet, that was the path taken by the Oxford City Council when it voted to criminalize transgender people for simply using the restroom,” said Chinyere Ezie, staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Ezie continued: “Misunderstanding and fear should never guide public policy decisions. Transgender people, like anybody else, should not be treated differently simply because of who they are. Fortunately, city council members have the opportunity to repeal this ordinance. Not only is repeal the right thing to do, it will protect city taxpayers from a potentially expensive lawsuit.”

The council’s decision to recall the ordinance comes as similar proposals are being rejected at the state and local level across the country.

Earlier this week, the city council in Rockwall, Texas, unanimously rejected a measure proposed by Mayor Jim Pruitt that would have prohibited transgender people from using restrooms consistent with their gender identities.

Scores of community members also came to speak out against that proposal.

Also, earlier this year, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard earlier this year vetoed legislation that limited restroom use for transgender children in public schools, and last month, the sponsor of a similar bill in Tennessee announced plans to pull the legislation from consideration this legislative session.

With its passage of the anti-transgender HB2, North Carolina became the first state to enact this type of legislation.

The state is facing a federal court challenge and fierce backlash and this week the U.S. Department of Justice notified Gov. Pat McCrory that the law violates the U.S. Civil Rights Act.

Opponents trash Seattle compost ordinance in suit

A Seattle ordinance that bars people from throwing their coffee grounds, pizza scraps and other potential compost into their trash cans is being challenged by critics who say the liberal city is turning garbage collectors into trash investigators.

A group of homeowners has sued the city over the tactic, claiming it violates privacy protections provided by the state Constitution.

The rule that went into effect early last year requires trash collectors to tag garbage cans that contain more than 10 percent compostable material with educational information.

The tactic is projected to divert as much as 38,000 tons of extra food waste from a landfill every year.

Several other cities have passed similar food waste laws, including Vancouver, B.C., San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.

Tad Seder, a lawyer for Seattle, said during a court hearing Friday on the lawsuit that garbage collectors are simply glancing at the trash to see if there is any obvious compost. They already look for dangerous items and a host of other banned materials such as paint cans, he said.

However, Ethan W. Blevins, an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, contends the ordinance requires collectors to make a deeper dive into the private waste of Seattleites.

The case is about “whether the city of Seattle can engage in widespread and frequent inspections of residents’ garbage cans without a warrant,” Blevins said.

He cited a case that was argued in front of the Washington Supreme Court in which Port Townsend police searched a man’s garbage for evidence that he was selling drugs after the trash was placed on a curb.

The court ruled police needed a warrant to search the rubbish, even if it was in plain view near the sidewalk.

Blevins also presented an affidavit from someone claiming they were tagged for compost violations twice when their trash had been secured in black plastic bags, suggesting collectors opened the bags to search for compost.

Seder said garbage collectors are not police and they’re not looking for criminal evidence. The ordinance is a good faith effort to bring people up to speed on the benefits of composting, he said.

Collectors are not supposed to open garbage bags or root around in open bags, but they are permitted to report flagrant violations of the ordinance, he added.

“If you have half of your garbage can filled with pizza crusts, they’re going to put a tag on it,” he said.

The city initially intended to fine violators a dollar for each offense _ a tactic that has been indefinitely delayed, according to Andy Ryan, a spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities.

Blevins hopes Judge Beth M. Andrus will invalidate the law entirely. She is expected to rule before April 30.

N.C. rolls back anti-discrimination protections

The North Carolina General Assembly convened a $42,000 special session to introduce and pass a measure that overrides an anti-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte and prevents local governments from enacting nondiscrimination policies to protect LGBT people.

The Charlotte ordinance protected LGBT residents from discrimination in public accommodations, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and bathrooms. Among other protections, it allowed transgender men and transgender women to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

Soon after the bill passed the Legislature,  Gov. Pat McCrory signed the measure into law.

The measure removes the ability of any local government to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and requires all public facilities, including schools, to allow restroom access only on the basis of “biological sex.”

The measure jeopardizes more than $4.5 billion in federal funding that North Carolina receives for secondary and post-secondary schools under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination, including discrimination against transgender students.

“Rather than expand nondiscrimination laws to protect all North Carolinians, the General Assembly instead spent $42,000 to rush through an extreme bill that undoes all local nondiscrimination laws and specifically excludes gay and transgender people from legal protections,” said Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “The manner in which legislators passed the most extreme anti-LGBT bill in the nation — voting hours after it was unveiled without adequate public debate — flies in the face of fairness and democracy.”

More than 200 cities, including Myrtle Beach and Columbia, South Carolina, have adopted nondiscrimination ordinances similar to Charlotte’s without negative consequences.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities, Attorney General Roy Cooper, Red Hat and Dow Chemical were among those who came out in opposition to the bill, in addition to major companies including Apple, Siemens, Microsoft, and AT&T who supported the Charlotte ordinance.

A Public Policy Polling survey released on March 22 showed widespread, bipartisan agreement among state voters that the Legislature should leave Charlotte’s ordinance alone.

“We did everything we could to defeat this legislation that was introduced and signed during a hastily-called special session of the General Assembly. We collaborated closely with Equality North Carolina, National Center for Transgender Equality, ACLU, HRC, Freedom for All Americans, and others to prepare spokespeople, connect constituents to their lawmakers via calls and emails, and to educate lawmakers directly,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the Equality Federation, a coalition of LGBT civil rights groups. “Unfortunately, we were up against a conservative House, Senate, and a governor who has been relying on disgusting, fear-mongering, anti-transgender rhetoric to fuel his re-election campaign.”

The next step may lead to the courthouse.

“We’re not giving up. The ACLU and Equality North Carolina are exploring a path forward in the courts. Several rallies are being held today. And, large businesses in the state like DOW Chemicals are standing strong against discrimination,” Isaacs said.



Proposed hog farm prompts Bayfield County to tighten regs

UPDATED: With a proposed factory farm threatening to foul Wisconsin’s “Crown Jewel,” the citizens of Bayfield County are not turning away from the stink or running from the fight.

State law prohibits the local jurisdiction from saying “no” to the proposed “concentrated animal feeding operation” in the town of Eileen, but the county on Jan. 26 adopted ordinances intended to tighten regulations and protect the health and safety of the area’s residents and the environment.

Bayfield County supervisors voted unanimously for an ordinance to create an operations permit for large-scale CAFOs and also for an ordinance to create an animal manure permit. The approach, creating local regulations on operations, is like the strategy local jurisdictions employed to control frac sand mines.

The grassroots Farms Not Factories  encouraged people to attend the meeting to show their support for stricter control and their opposition to the siting of the factory farm. The votes brought a standing ovation from opponents of the project, who are concerned with air emissions, odor impacts, water pollution, the release of pathogens and inadequate regulatory oversight.

The proposal

About a year ago, Reicks View Farms filed an application with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources seeking a permit to discharge annually about 6.8 million gallons of liquid manure — to be produced by 26,000 hogs at a planned breeding and feeding operation in Bayfield County. The manure would be stored in pits under covered barns and then injected into soil on about 1,300 acres in the Lake Superior watershed. Reicks wants to move the operation from Iowa because of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus that’s so devastating to suckling pigs. Animals would be raised at the Wisconsin Badgerwood CAFO and then shipped to Iowa.

An application filed with the state indicated the operation would create 27 new jobs, but didn’t say whether the positions would be permanent or what salaries they might pay.

Farms Not Factories says a document provided to county officials and prepared by Reicks stated the business selected Eileen because of “its natural seclusion” — referring to the area’s isolation from hog farms in Iowa, Illinois and other parts of Wisconsin.

The response

Wisconsinites who care about the state’s outdoors know about a different type of “natural seclusion” in the region, which is home to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Iron River National Fish Hatchery, North Country National Scenic Trail, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

Wisconsinites familiar with the state’s geography also know that Eileen is in the Fish Creek Watershed and less than 8 miles from the Chequamegon Bay and Lake Superior. One of Farms Not Factories’ slogans is “10 percent of the world’s fresh water is more valuable to this planet than cheap bacon and pork tenderloin.”

Wisconsin already is home to about 270 large-scale CAFOs. The number has skyrocketed from about 50 in 2006, when Gov. Jim Doyle signed legislation setting basic state standards for CAFOs and removing local control over siting the farms. “That legislation was put in place to provide regulatory certainty for Big Ag,” said Mary Dougherty of Farms Not Factories.

The Badgerwood CAFO would be the first such operation in Lake Superior basin and the largest hog farm in the state. Farms Not Factories said the hogs at Badgerwood would produce as much waste as a city of 50,000 people.

A moratorium on the development of large-scale farms was enacted in both Bayfield after plans for Badgerwood emerged.

Since then, the project and possible responses have been under review.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said it is looking at the project, in part because of concerns about pollution raised by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, whose reservation is east of Ashland on the Lake Superior shore, and the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, whose reservation is north of Bayfield.

The DNR agreed to do an environmental-impact statement and has collected a lot of public input — hundreds of suggestions and statements from citizens, scientists and advocacy groups. A draft of the EIS is yet to be released. Public comment would follow, then any revisions before the publication of a final EIS, which may or may not influence the state’s decision on the application for Badgerwood.

Meanwhile, the reviews seem complete in Bayfield and Ashland counties. 

A committee established by the Bayfield County Board of Supervisors studied the issue, guided by the dual goals of “having a thriving agricultural community and maintaining the public’s health and safety and a healthy environment,” according to its final report.

The committee studied issues relating to ground water, surface water, microbiology and air quality and recommended the adoption of the Large-Scale Confined Animal Feeding Operations Ordinance to require new or expanding livestock operations of 1,000 animals or more to obtain a county operations permit and meet any conditions attached to the permit.

The committee made some other recommendations, including the adoption of the Bayfield County Animal Waste Storage and Management Ordinance requiring new or expanding CAFOs to obtain a permit for storing and managing manure.

“We can’t legally say ‘no,’” said Dougherty, “So, as a result, we came up with this — because we have to do something.”

A poll recently released by Northland College’s Center for Rural Communities shows 63.3 percent of residents oppose the farm and there’s strong support for the county ordinances.

Nearly three-quarters — 72.5 percent — of households support the tighter local regulations at the county level. 

Residents’ top five concerns for factory farms are water quality, smell, divisions in the community, air quality and health risks.

These concerns are shared elsewhere in Wisconsin, which is why activists are developing a statewide coalition.

“We have to have this as a mass movement and say this type of agriculture is not Wisconsin,” said Dougherty.

Houston voters reject equal rights ordinance

Houston voters on Nov. 3 failed to affirm an ordinance that would have secured protections from discrimination for the people of the fourth largest city in the country.

The measure, Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which appeared on the ballot on Election Day, fell short of a majority vote.

The ordinance would have prohibited discrimination in places of employment, city contracting, housing, public accommodations and private employment at businesses on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity and pregnancy.

American Civil Liberties Union national political director Karin Johanson, said, “The work in Houston must continue until everyone is protected from discrimination. Houston continues to be the only major American city without a law protecting its residents from discrimination. As a result, the only protection Houstonians have is a costly federal lawsuit. In the case of LGBT Houstonians there are no explicit protections at the federal or state level. A strong local coalition will continue to work to end discrimination against all Houstonians and the ACLU will support them.”

ACLU of Texas executive director Terri Burke added, “It’s a tragedy that Houston remains the only major city in Texas—indeed, the last big city in the United States — that does not extend equal rights protections to all of its residents and visitors. Those of us who have worked to bring equality to Houston will continue the fight to ensure that everyone can live fairly and equally under the law. The next mayor and newly elected members of Houston’s city council must prioritize the passage of a new equal rights ordinance as quickly as possible.”

The city council approved Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance in May 2014, but enforcement was placed on hold pending the outcome of the citizens’ vote on Election Day.

Kenneth D. Upton Jr., senior sounsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas, said after the election, “We knew this vote would be an uphill battle and we witnessed the opponents of HERO pull out all the stops, launching a campaign full of distortions and fear-mongering designed to mislead and confuse voters.

“But we also saw an impressive coming together of the Houston business, faith and civic communities in Houston Unites, which campaigned tirelessly in support of HERO and for ensuring that all Houstonians can live their lives and provide for their families without fear of discrimination. Sadly, the ugly and divisive tactics of the opponents of HERO succeeded in persuading a majority of Houstonians to vote no. But we have faced disappointments before that did not stop us — this fight for fairness is far from over.”

The coalition that makes up Houston Unites includes the ACLU of Texas, Equality Texas, NAACP Houston Branch, Texas Freedom Network, Freedom for All Americans and the Human Rights Campaign.

The coaliton’s statement read, in part, “Although Houston won’t yet join the 200 other cities that have similar nondiscrimination measures, the fight continues. We will continue telling the stories of Houstonians whose lives would be better off because of HERO – including people of color, people of faith, veterans who have served our country, women, and gay and transgender people.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

ACLU again challenging Madison’s anti-panhandling ordinance

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin on Aug. 11 notified Madison officials that a recent appeals court case makes clear that the city’s anti-panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional.

Three years ago, Madison banned people from even peacefully soliciting donations in most of downtown.

“Back in 2012, we wrote to the city of Madison and told them that the ordinance appeared to be unconstitutional,” said Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “And last week’s case from the federal court of appeals in Chicago — invalidating an almost identical law from Springfield, Illinois — shows we were right.”

On Aug. 7, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that by prohibiting people from asking for donations, the Springfield ordinance unconstitutionally discriminated based on the content of a speaker’s words, in violation of the First Amendment.

“Not only must Madison repeal its anti-panhandling ordinance, but it also needs to stop trying to criminalize homelessness,” Rotker said in a news release. “Instead, the city should move forward with positive steps to resolve the problem, such as establishing a day shelter and vigorously pursuing the Zero:2016 plan to end veterans homelessness this year and chronic homelessness by the end of 2016.”

Louisiana city considers fining people for saggy pants

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is cautioning the Opelousas City Council, which is considering an ordinance creating penalties for saggy or low-riding pants.

The proposed ordinance, according to the ACLU, says, “Pants worn by any person, regardless of age, should be size appropriate and secured at the waist to prevent the pants from falling more than 3 inches below the hips (crest of ilium).”

The penalties would include fines and/or community service.

The proposed ordinance is similar to one adopted in Ville Platte, Louisiana.

The ACLU says such regulations are unconstitutional.

In an open letter to city officials, the ACLU said, “Clothing is a form of expression protected under the Constitution of the United States. To ban a particular clothing style would violate a liberty interest guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The ACLU further said that the council has no legitimate rational basis for regulating the attire of people in the city.

Also, the ACLU said the proposal is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, making no “concessions for the stereotype of ‘plumber’s’ or ‘carpenter’s crack.’ It makes a criminal of everyone whose pants are not high enough to suit the taste of the city council.”

The civil rights group also raised the concern that the ordinance “would inevitably raise questions about racial profiling or disproportionate enforcement.”

The ACLU went on to point out that if city officials’ concern is for the exposure of genitalia, the state’s criminal code already deals with such.

Houston council passes equal rights ordinance

The Houston City Council on May 28 voted 11-6 to pass the Equal Rights Ordinance championed by openly lesbian Mayor Annise Parker.

Parker offered the measure, which was amended by Houston Councilmember Davis to include protections to transgender people.

The ordinance protect all Houstonians from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations.

Workers in both the public and private sectors will be protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, genetic information, and pregnancy. 

Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Under Mayor Parker’s leadership, this commonsense legislation will make life a little easier and fairer for thousands of Houstonians. It is far past time to protect the citizens of Houston from all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The ordinance takes effects in a month.

About 200 people addressed the issue during the council meeting, most of them in favor of the ordinance.

Milwaukee County board adds gender identity to nondiscrimination ordinance

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted on April 24 to amend its nondiscrimination ordinance to ban bias based on gender identity and gender expression.

The ordinance protects those who work for the county and also those who work for companies that do business with the county.

Milwaukee has similar protections in its nondiscrimination ordinance, as do Madison and Dane County.

The state of Wisconsin, though it was the first state to ban bias based on sexual orientation, does not protect transgender citizens in its nondiscrimination law.

In a statement, Marina Dimitrijevic, chair of the county board, said, “Thank you to my colleagues on the county board for voting today to end discrimination and to update our non-discrimination ordinances. Milwaukee County will join 17 states and more than 100 communities across America … who have all passed similar fully inclusive non-discrimination protections and implemented them successfully.

“County Executive Chris Abele has been an excellent partner in moving our county towards equality and fairness. I thank him for his support of my legislation. This inclusive resolution will modernize Milwaukee County’s existing policies and help protect against discrimination. The implementation of this type of change will enhance our competitiveness as Milwaukee County seeks to build a talented workforce.”

She continued, “I am proud of the Milwaukee County Board for taking a stand against discrimination and ensuring that all residents have the same access to our resources, services, and employment opportunities. Milwaukee County is the economic engine of our state. A fair and inclusive Milwaukee County strengthens our state.”

The county’s website said the update expands the nondiscrimination policy “to ensure equal opportunity to all persons from all segments of Milwaukee County in contracting, employment and promotional opportunity and equal access to public services.”