Eureka Springs city council votes to amend non-discrimination law
The Eureka Springs City Council in a special meeting Friday afternoon unanimously passed with an emergency clause an ordinance to amend their non-discrimination law, Ordinance 2223, as a defensive move in case the state decides to challenge it on a Constitutional basis.
The city council dropped "socioeconomic background" from Ordinance 2223, added a clause so minors under the influence cannot allege discrimination, added verbiage protecting LGBTs and minorities from financial discrimination and clarified the law to include protections for both residents and people visiting the city. The amendment also adds a severability clause as an added protection in the event of a Constitutional challenge.
The state's Act 137, the Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, goes into effect next week barring local governments like Eureka Springs from adopting rules or policies that create "a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law." Eureka Springs City Council aldermen passed their non-discrimination law in February with an emergency clause as a pre-emptive measure to Act 137, which was moving quickly through the Legislature.
Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams was at the meeting and wrote a letter to Eureka Springs City Attorney Tim Weaver a few weeks ago recommending the city strike three references to socioeconomic background from its law because the phrase didn't add any real protection against discrimination and could provide "an easy way [for the state] to attack" the law with a Due Process argument.
During a 5-minute break, Williams consulted with Weaver and told him that it is wise not to make too many changes to their ordinance and that the language needs to be "clear and non-partisan."
"I would rather have the Constitution wrapped around me saying it is not the city council but the people that did it. The less you change the better," he said. "Our feeling is that it doesn't violate the Intrastate Commerce law ... it's not a slam dunk. It has to be litigated and that's what I can do. I assume one or both cities will be sued and we will do everything to protect our citizens' civil rights."
Arkansas Attorney General spokesperson Judd Deere told the Lovely County Citizen in a phone call after Friday afternoon's meeting that "there is no truth to the rumor that the attorney general plans to sue the city."