POCATELLO — An effort to get a referendum that puts the future of the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance that protects members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual community when it comes to housing, employment and public accommodations required 1,420 registered voters to sign a petition.
By mid-October 2013 the Bannock County clerk had verified that 1,671 registered voters had signed the petition, and it will go on the ballot during the May 20 primary election.
Last week a local television station reported that some people who signed the petition were unhappy because they didn’t understand its intent.
City attorney Kirk Bybee, who drafted the language for the original anti-discrimination ordinance, said he finds it hard to believe that most people who signed the petition for a referendum didn’t understand their actions. And his office has received no formal complaints about the petition process.
“I’ve heard some rumors that people were unhappy about the petition, but we’ve received no formal complaints,” Bybee said.
The Journal randomly contacted several people who signed the petition last October and none of them said they were confused about the effort to place the city’s action on a referendum.
“I don’t think it was confusing,” said Tom Beebe. “It was to give the public a chance to vote on what our city fathers decided.”
“Yes, I wanted that on the ballot,” said Meri Dee Smith.
Smith said she wasn’t extremely pleased with the language of the referendum that was unanimously approved by the council Thursday night.
The question that will be put to city voters reads:
“Should the city repeal Ordinance No. 2921, which prohibits discrimination against a person in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations, based upon that person’s sexual orientation and gender identity/expression? A ‘yes’ vote would mean you want the city to repeal the ordinance. A ‘no’ vote would mean you want the city to keep the ordinance in effect.”
Smith isn’t the only one who is disappointed in the ballot language. Bybee said he did not have a hand in drafting the referendum.
“This is not my language,” Bybee said. “I proposed simpler, more straightforward language.”
However, Bybee said the referendum language was reviewed by the state Attorney General’s office and the Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and it received the OK from them.
After two hearings on the anti-discrimination ordinance held in 2013 — one in April and another in June — the City Council voted 4-2 in favor of the anti-discrimination measure. Bybee drafted the ordinance based on similar laws in Boise, Sandpoint and cities in Utah, Montana and Oregon.
Pocatello has joined Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene, Ketchum and Moscow as cities with similar anti-discrimination ordinances. Idaho Falls passed an ordinance that does not extend the protection when it comes to public accommodations.
Although the ordinance has been in effect in Pocatello since last June, Bybee said the city has received no complaints regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation.