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San Antonio council members want to expand non-discrimination ordinance to private companies

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Jalen McKee-Rodriguez speaks in front of City Hall about a proposed expansion of San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance. - SANFORD NOWLIN
  • Sanford Nowlin
  • Jalen McKee-Rodriguez speaks in front of City Hall about a proposed expansion of San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance.
Members of San Antonio City Council have filed to expand the city's eight-year-old non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) by having it apply to all private businesses with 15 or more employees.

As currently on the books, the ordinance protects people against discrimination based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and more. However, it applies only to city employment and contracts, housing, public accommodations and board appointments.

Under the proposed expansion filed Thursday by first-term Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and four other council members, the NDO would also include legal assistance for those filing complaints plus increased penalties for violators.

"It is a known fact that instances of discrimination go underreported because if people don't feel that they'll receive support, they are left with few options," said McKee-Rodriguez at a City Hall news conference. "You may go to submit a complaint, you describe the traumas you experience, you rehash those emotions and then what? For many, nothing happens."

McKee-Rodriguez, the first openly gay man to serve on council, made an expansion of the NDO a centerpiece of his campaign to represent District 2.

Council members Mario Bravo, Adriana Rocha Garcia, Melissa Cabello Havrda and Ana Sandoval also signed on to the proposal. What's more, Phyllis Viagran gave her verbal support at the presser, suggesting the measure has the majority support needed to pass on the progressive-dominated council.

The filing is the first hurdle for the proposed expansion to receive a vote by the full council, but it would first need to be taken up by the governance committee. It's unclear how soon that might happen.

The proposed NDO expansion comes as the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature attempted to push through numerous pieces of legislation targeting transgender people, including a new law limiting transgender student-athletes' sports participation. It's also being proposed as San Antonio and Austin have experienced acts of anti-Semitism by a neo-Nazi group.

An expansion of San Antonio's ordinance is likely to face pushback from business groups and conservatives. However, at the press conference, Cabello Havrda said inclusivity is good for business. She added that she's eager to speak to legal aid groups that can help residents pursue claims under the expanded ordinance.

"One of the barriers to justice is the feeling that if you report discrimination nothing will happen, or that you'll need to opt for expensive litigation," she said.

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