The City Council Wednesday approved a civil and human rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination and other forms of bigotry in Los Angeles.
The ordinance was approved on a 12-0 vote, along with a second measure to create a commission to investigate violations of residents’ civil rights, with the power to levy fines of up to $125,000 per standard violation and cumulative penalties of up to $250,000 per violation as a result of violent or harassing acts.
The commission would have 15 members, with one member appointed by each of the 15 City Council members and approved by the full council.
Peter Schey, a civil rights attorney and the city’s legal adviser on immigration issues, urged passage of the ordinances, which need to be signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti to become official.
“I think it’s going to be a model human rights and civil rights provision that other cities may later adopt, and I think it will provide protection to a large number of people, particularly vulnerable, low-income people who presently for one reason or another fear the federal government’s unfamiliarity with the state’s procedures on having the discrimination that they’ve experienced addressed,” Schey told the council’s Immigrant Affairs, Civil Rights and Equity Committee in February.
The motion creating the ordinance says it “must provide remedies easily accessible to victims of discrimination and include severe penalties to discourage the exploitation of and discrimination against the city’s residents.”
One outstanding issue is the cost of enforcing the ordinance, as current state law may limit the authority of the commission.
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act contains a preemption clause which prohibits local enforcement of its provisions, which means the commission would only be able to address discrimination complaints related to the four protected classes included in the city law: citizenship status, partnership status, veteran status and employment or income status, according to Chief Administrative Officer Richard Llewellyn.
Discrimination due to race, ancestry, national origin, religion, creed, age, disability, sex, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation and some others all fall under FEHA and could limit the scope of enforcement of the ordinance, according to the CAO.
However, there is an effort underway at the state level to allow the enforcement of FEHA provisions by local jurisdictions, according to Llewellyn.
Schey also has said there may be some flexibility with the state law. The City Council, in its vote, asked the city attorney to report on options for removing the state preemption clause for the California Fair Employment and Housing Act as it relates to enforcement in the city.
The cost of setting up the commission and its staff would be $237,768 over three months, according to the CAO’s office.
The 12-month cost of operating the commission — which would include staff from the City Attorney’s Office — would be just over $3 million if the commission is preempted from enforcing FEHA — more than $9.7 million if it is not.
The effective date of the civil rights ordinance would be Jan. 1, 2020.
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