Future of Lincoln 'fairness amendment' uncertain

2012-08-16T23:55:00Z 2012-10-10T19:27:08Z Future of Lincoln 'fairness amendment' uncertainBy NANCY HICKS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Lincoln residents will not be asked to vote on what has been called the “fairness amendment” in November.

In fact, any vote on the matter may be at least a year or two away. 

City Councilman Carl Eskridge, who sponsored the fairness ordinance in the spring, says he has no particular date in mind to take the proposal to voters.

It will not be on the ballot for the November statewide election and it may not be on the citywide ballot in May, he said.

The issue got political after the City Council passed an ordinance expanding the city's protection against discrimination to gays, lesbians and transgender people in mid-May.

"November just didn't feel like a good time to offer it," Eskridge said.

He said he was having doubts about putting the question of amending the city charter on the November ballot before a Lincoln woman told police she was hurt during a hate crime last month.

That incident, and the fact that details of the incident remain unknown, add even more emotion to the issue, Eskridge said in a telephone interview. 

"Now is just not a good time."

Eskridge said he will consider putting the question on the May ballot, but that it likely would become politically intertwined with races for three council seats. 

The potential politics of having the issue on that ballot would be a factor in any decision, he said.

"I just don't know when it will happen. It could well be a year or two."

The fairness amendment passed the council on a partisan 5-2 vote this spring.

Opponents then mounted a petition campaign, gathering enough signatures to require the council to either let the ordinance die or put it on a ballot.

In late May, when it was clear the petition drive would be successful, Mayor Chris Beutler recommended putting the question to a vote.

He suggested framing the issue as an amendment to the city charter, which is akin to a state constitution, rather than an ordinance. 

Since then, the Beutler administration and Eskridge have not talked about the issue publicly, but they responded to reporter requests for information Thursday after it became clear the city would not likely meet the deadline for getting it on the fall ballot.

Language for a ballot issue would have to be on Monday’s council agenda to meet the Lancaster County election commissioner’s Sept. 4 deadline, and the agenda released Thursday afternoon has nothing on it relating to providing civil rights protection in Lincoln based on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Eskridge said it is best to pull back and let some education and healing take place.

The gay and lesbian community would like to see a vote soon, but it also wants to see it be successful, he said.

A charter amendment proposal could be placed on the ballot at a regularly scheduled election, or the council could call for a special election.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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