Supervisors consider county employee travel ban

BY BEN MARKS | APRIL 03, 2015 5:00 AM

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Soon, Johnson County may join the dozens of other states, counties and corporations around the nation who have vowed not to do business or travel in states with discriminatory religious-freedom laws.

During a work session on Wednesday, Supervisor Janelle Rettig proposed a policy to the Board of Supervisors that would place a travel ban for county employees to states with discriminatory religious-freedom laws, such as the one the LGBT community believed Indiana had until Thursday.

“We believe it’s important to not allow discrimination like that,” Rettig said. “We’re not interested in using county tax payer dollars in entities that allow discrimination.”

With a unanimous decision to place the policy on next week’s agenda for a vote, Rettig said she believes the policy will pass easily.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said the policy would mimic the travel ban signed by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee last week, which prohibits any county employee from using public funds to travel to Indiana.

However, Rettig also said the policy the supervisors discussed would be much broader than San Francisco’s and would not simply be limited to Indiana but any state with legislation that the supervisors perceive as discriminatory.

“We don’t travel to Indiana that often, but there are other states who are considering [these laws] who will be different,” she said.

As an example, she noted the supervisors’ trip next month to Wisconsin, saying if Wisconsin was to theoretically pass such legislation, they would cancel the visit.

“I would urge the other entities to be as firm, including the University of Iowa, which I’m sure travels to Indiana a lot,” Rettig said. “If the university truly believes in human rights, it will find a different place to go to conferences and athletics events.”

Last week after fans pushed to have the Big Ten championship football game be taken out of Indiana, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney issued this statement:

“The Big Ten Conference and its member institutions believe in promoting an inclusive environment in which athletics competition can operate free from discrimination. The conference is aware of the bill that was recently signed into law in the state of Indiana and will further review its impact at the next scheduled meetings of its administrators, presidents, and chancellors.”

Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said the UI supports Delaney’s statement and will work with Big Ten officials.

On the city level, Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said the council hasn’t discussed the issue because its next meeting isn’t until April 7. However, he said, it would probably come up during the next work session.

Hayek said the county’s efforts were laudable and addressed an “important topic” but said it’s also a complex issue.

He said he believed the media were missing the most important issue in covering Indiana.

 “Whether Indiana has a religious-freedom law or not, it is still legal to discriminate there based on sexual orientation, and it was long before this popped up in the news,” he said. “Discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal in most states and under federal law.”

Early Thursday evening, hours after Hayek’s comments, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, amid growing national pressure, signed a revised Religious Freedom Restoration Act with the provision that it will not permit discrimination based on, among other things, sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, only 17 states, including Iowa, have statewide employment nondiscrimination laws that explicitly cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

Iowa City City Councilor Kingsley Botchway echoed Hayek, and said although he would “definitely consider something like this,” it’s a difficult subject.

“From a legal standpoint, it gets kind of tricky,” he said. “There are different laws throughout all our states that are problematic from a discrimination standpoint, and I think we need to do our homework on it to make sure we’re not banning ourselves from all states.”

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