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Connellsville lecture on Saturday to focus on rejected human-rights ordinance

| Thursday, July 24, 2014, 1:11 a.m.

The human-rights ordinance that was presented to Connellsville City Council earlier this year and was declined will be discussed at a lecture series on Saturday.

“It includes protection from discrimination in areas of housing, employment and public accommodations on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity or expression,” said Paula Johnston, a Connellsville resident and region organizer for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Region of Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania.

Johnston was one of the residents in February who presented the proposed ordinance to council, which led to a public hearing. At the hearing, council decided to not vote on the ordinance because of concerns expressed by those attending.

The major concern is the power of a human-rights commission. The commission would get written complaints of alleged discrimination, which would lead to a fact-finding conference, a public hearing, a decision that a human-rights violation has been committed, which could lead to imposing civil penalties.

Those against the proposed ordinance said the commission would be granted power to unelected officials with no required legal experience, which could be abused and open the doors to frivolous lawsuits.

Johnston said some changes have been made to the proposed ordinance, which residents will present to council at the September meeting.

“Less power is given to the companion Human Relations Commission,” Johnston said of the new ordinance. “It will be educational in nature.”

Johnston said the newly drafted ordinance won't give the commission punitive power. The board won't be able to fine guilty parties or to award damages to those who were discriminated against.

“The expanded procedures for fact-finding were eliminated,” Johnston said, adding that an aggrieved party can't take its case to the state because there are no state laws on the books. “Seems to me it stops with the ‘discrimination' or ‘no discrimination' finding.”

Johnston said the purpose of the lecture on Saturday is to get people involved with the proposed ordinance and have them consider introducing similar legislation before their own local government.

The lecture will kick off the Connellsville Canteen Lecture Series and Artist Incubator, which is funded by a grant from the Three Rivers Community Foundation. The event will begin at 6 p.m. at Connellsville Canteen, 131 W. Crawford Ave.

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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