- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - Texarkana, Arkansas, residents will vote on whether the city’s new anti-discrimination policy will stay or go.

The Texarkana Gazette (https://bit.ly/1TzzGd2 ) reports that members of the city’s board of directors voted Monday to use nearly $23,000 of the city’s fund balance to pay for a special election on June 28, when residents will decide whether or not to keep the M-130 ordinance.

The ordinance aims to protect employees and customers of local businesses from any kind of discrimination, including sexual orientation or gender identity. The rule has been controversial since it passed in January. A group known as Repeal 130 obtained more than double the required 1,100 signatures to require the city to have a special election.

Legislators have barred cities and counties from prohibiting discrimination on a basis not contained in state law but that hasn’t prevented several Arkansas communities from adopting their own. Their backers say various protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are mentioned in a variety of state laws even if there isn’t a single broad statute.

Mayor Ruth Penney-Bell says it proper for the board to let citizens speak their minds through a vote.

“Whenever we do things some citizens disagree with, this is the way we handle it,” Penney-Bell said.

Texarkana resident Mark Vaughan told the board that the city could use the money that’s being spent on the vote to take care of more important city matters, like aiding city departments, tearing down burned-out buildings, hiring police officers, or fixing more than 1,200 potholes.

“Instead we will be having a special election to ensure that terms “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity” are still unprotected, (and) that they can still be discriminated against,” Vaughan said.

Resident Gary Nutter said that 17 other states have adopted similar anti-discrimination legislation.

“We have our differences, sure, and sometimes they are religious, sometimes race, and sometimes gender, but after all we are all people, thank you,” Nutter said.

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Information from: Texarkana Gazette, https://www.texarkanagazette.com

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