Last month, a law was passed unanimously that will allow Ulster County residents who have their rights violated a local option to settle their dispute, versus travelling all the way to Albany for mediation.
County Executive Mike Hein signed the Ulster County Human Rights Protection Act of 2018 into law on Wednesday, Sept. 12. The law will go into effect once it has been filed with the state and will give the Ulster County Human Rights Commission power to offer mediation and conciliation to county residents.
Ulster County residents facing discrimination currently must travel to Albany to present their case to state Human Rights Commission; this law provides these individuals with a local access point.
“In many ways it gets extremely complicated in that situation,” Hein said. “Additionally, it can also create a situation in which an individual hesitates to come forward. It’s an additional burden it’s problematic for them to make it all the way to Albany to ultimately file a complaint.”
Hein said that what separates this piece of legislation from other similar initiatives is that it was a bipartisan effort.
“I’m proud that as a body they were able to work through the process without compromising the quality of the law,” Hein said. “When you get to a point where you actually get a quality piece of legislation that can garner unanimous support is wonderful and I was honored to be able to sign it.”
He added that Chairman of the Ulster County Legislature Ken Ronk played a pivotal role in this process and that the Democratic caucus was actively involved in the process of creating and garnering support for the law.
Last year, a law that would have granted the Ulster County Human Rights Commission the authority to hear complaints and levy fines against violations fell through due to bipartisan disagreements.
This law, like the state’s, prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, resort and amusements, housing accommodations, commercial space and land transactions, and in the issuing of credit based on a person’s race, color, religion, ethnicity, creed, age, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgender status, group identity, marital status or disability.
“These complaints can be filed locally, they can be mediated locally and it’s going to give them the capacity to get what I think is complete justice in the situation,” Hein said. “Real solutions that matter to an individual.”
In addition to being able to file complaints locally, complainants unsatisfied with the results of mediation will now have the option to take their case to an administrative law judge, who can assess damages if the claim is upheld.