Some Petersburg residents are asking the borough assembly to adopt an anti-discrimination ordinance like other Alaska municipalities.
Callers testifying before the Petersburg borough assembly Monday night supported passage of a proposed local law based on a policy adopted in Juneau. It seeks to eliminate discrimination based on race, age, religion, sexual orientation or gender expression.
Several of the callers mentioned Alaska civil rights leaders Elizabeth Peratrovich and Amy Hallingstad and efforts to pass an anti-discrimination law at the state level.
Local resident Heather Conn read letters from her cousin Mika Hasbrouck and herself in support of a local law.
“Petersburg has so many stories, stories that can be told and heard from many in regards to discrimination,” Conn said. “Our own town had signs posted back that to groups of people not welcome in many places still operating today. That’s not the case right now. Yes we have changed but we can also change this for good. It can be its own. This is one thing that we Petersburg can come together on, something that can make a difference for everyone and I encourage us to come together and make it right.”
Similar laws have been passed in other Alaska communities like Ketchikan, Sitka and Anchorage. The proposed ordinance would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public places. A person who feels discrimination could petition a court for a remedy.
Petersburg’s borough charter has limited language that addresses non-discrimination for people who work for the borough or are appointed to a borough position. The proposed law would also apply to private employers, companies and land lords in Petersburg. But it has allowances for limitations or preferences imposed by private clubs, religious organizations and Native tribes.
Assembly member Chelsea Tremblay noted that federal law already offers some of the same protections.
“The Juneau policy added familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression,” Tremblay said. “Juneau also has a human rights commission which is dedicated toward the education and development of implementation of those policies. The question I have, is if a local ordinance would, that I would like to look into, is if the local ordinance would do anything to change enforcement or implementation of those federal laws because the city and borough of Juneau refers people to the federal and state enforcement mechanisms. And so to me that’s kind of the question at hand.”
Petersburg’s assembly hasn’t yet taken up the proposed ordinance. If they’re not interested in passing it, local residents could also gather signatures to put the ordinance up for a public vote.