Fate of anti-bias vote in council uncertain - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 12:00 am / Updated at 2:08 am
Fate of anti-bias vote in council uncertain

Coming Tuesday: Follow live coverage of the City Council meeting.

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The Omaha City Council member leading an effort to add legal protections for gay and transgender residents said he can't anticipate how Tuesday's vote will turn out.

“I'm not sure where it's going to go,” Councilman Ben Gray said Monday, the eve of the biggest City Council vote so far this year.

Gray's proposed amendments to city anti-discrimination ordinances would allow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents to file complaints with Omaha's Human Rights and Relations Department if they believed they were fired because of their sexual orientation, suffered other workplace discrimination or were refused service at restaurants, hotels or other places that serve the public.

Gray's proposed language includes an exemption for religious organizations.

The seven council members are scheduled to debate and vote on the protections, and related amendments, at the start of the 2 p.m. meeting.

Most eyes will be on Councilman Franklin Thompson, who killed a similar proposal in 2010 by declining to cast a vote on it. The vote that time was 3-3.

Thompson has promised to vote Tuesday. After last week's marathon public hearing on the subject, Thompson suggested he was leaning in one direction — though he didn't elaborate — but had other questions he needed to clarify. The councilman has not spoken publicly about the matter since those comments.

The uncertainty about the vote comes as a new poll showed that a majority of Omaha registered voters who were polled favored such protections.

The survey, commissioned by a local group of gay rights supporters, found 60 percent of voters citywide favored ordinances to prohibit discrimination against gay and transgender residents, while approximately 25 percent opposed them. The survey's results were released Monday.

The poll was commissioned by Equal Omaha, a group of local organizations that support the proposed protections, and funded through a grant from the Washington, D.C.-based organization Human Rights Campaign.

The survey found 61 percent of voters in Thompson's west-central District 6 favored the proposed changes and 29 percent opposed the changes.

Sixty-eight percent of voters in Councilman Garry Gernandt's South Omaha District 4 favored the discrimination protections and 19 percent were opposed.

Gernandt has introduced an amendment to grant the protections solely to city employees, which will be voted on before the council takes up the full proposal. Gernandt voted against the measure when it was proposed two years ago.

The data come from a survey of 1,003 registered Omaha voters taken between Friday and Sunday. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points citywide. For Gernandt's district, the margin of error was 5.3 percentage points. In Thompson's district, the margin was 5.08 percentage points.

Of the respondents, 39 percent described their party affiliation as Democratic-leaning or Democratic, 41 percent described themselves as Republican-leaning or Republican, and 18 percent said they were independent.

The poll was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a global political polling company whose clients include large global corporations, issue advocacy groups and political campaigns, including that of former President Bill Clinton and other Democratic organizations.

Contact the writer:
402-444-1068, johnny.perez@owh.com

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Ask questions and follow along with live coverage of Tuesday's Omaha City Council meeting, where the council is expected to vote on the ordinance.

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