State Lawmakers Plan To Resurrect Anti-Discrimination Law

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History may soon be made behind the hallowed walls of the statehouse.
"Ohio is behind the eight ball on this,” said Michael Skindell.  “Many states in the United States have passed similar legislation."

The state senator from Cuyahoga County says it's about time.

State Democrats have long supported anti-discrimination measures over the past decade to protect gay people from discrimination in the workplace and in getting fair housing.

In 2009, House Bill 176 passed in the chamber where it was introduced, but it died in the state senate.

Skindell voted for the measure back then as a state representative and now says there's a new political dynamic to push this version through.

"The critical part about this bill is we have bi-partisan sponsorship in the Senate,” Skindell said.  “That has never happened with the history of this legislation."

To get that bipartisan support, there is a religious exemption in the legislation as it stands now.

That would not help somebody like Carla Hale, a teacher who was recently fired from Bishop Watterson, a Columbus Catholic High School, after acknowledgment of her same-sex relationship was published in the local paper.

"So to just make a blanket exclusion for religious organizations doesn't make a lot of sense to me," said Tom Tootle, Hale’s attorney.

Tootle says his client would never benefit from the law if it’s passed, but he says it’s a step in the right direction for others.

Hale served as a physical education teacher at Bishop Watterson for 19 years and was let go the end of March this year.

She continues to fight to get her job back through a grievance process.

A special committee of union teachers is deciding whether to throw its support behind Carla Hale, as she moves on with that process.

"The question is, where do you draw the line?" asked Tootle.

Tootle says it boils down to the interpretation of the law - and whether it applies to employees who do not directly convey a religious message.

"It's more political than it is an issue of what the law can handle, what the courts can handle," Tootle said.  “Courts have a lot of experience deciding which employees are subject to discrimination laws and which ones are not.”

Tootle said he would like to have the strength of state law behind him but is still glad the city of Columbus has an anti-discrimination law.  Hale is currently pursuing a complaint with the city’s Community Relations Commission.

Skindell said for now, the religious exemption is the key to the new anti-discrimination legislation.

"My personal belief is I'd like to see that changed, but to get a bill passed in the Ohio General Assembly, that's the starting point," Skindell added.

The new anti-discrimination legislation is expected to be introduced in the state senate early next week.

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