Georgia county considers rules outlawing discrimination

A middle Georgia county is debating whether to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance that would govern businesses.

Macon-Bibb County commissioners voted 5-3 to advance the proposal on Tuesday, setting it up for a final vote before the commission next week, news outlets reported.

The ordinance would ban discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity or military status. Under the ordinance, businesses could not discriminate by withholding any goods, services or accommodations.

The ordinance would allow people who felt they have been discriminated against to complain to the city-county government within 60 days, which would appoint a mediator. Any claims not settled in mediation would go to a hearing officer. Any business found to have been discriminating could be fined up to $500.

“We are not inventing the wheel here in terms of the legislation,” Commissioner Larry Schlesinger said. “Similar ordinances have been passed in Atlanta, Savannah and Statesboro along with eight other municipalities in the state.”

Supporters say a local process would be easier, faster and cheaper to use than pursuing federal civil rights lawsuits or employment discrimination complaints.

“It’s really important for Macon as a city that we won’t tolerate discrimination here,” Claire Cox, a local resident who helped to draft the ordinance, tells WMAZ-TV.

Commissioner Valerie Wynn and Mallory Jones opposed the ordinance, saying it would allow transgender persons to use public restrooms of the sex they identify with.

“You don’t want to have someone to come in there that is not of the same gender or says they believe they are of the same gender so they need to be in there,” Wynn said, according to WXGA-TV.

Assistant County Attorney Michael McNeill said the rules wouldn’t apply to private schools or any government agencies including public schools. Many of the sharpest disputes over transgender protections have centered on school bathrooms nationwide.

Jones said the ordinance doesn’t offer freedom, but instead tries to force all people to conform to one viewpoint, saying it gives “extraordinary rights” to some.

Mayor Robert Reichert said the city-county will hold a public hearing before any final vote.