Ulster Empowered With Human Rights Protection Act

After over 30 years and multiple attempts to pass legislation protecting individuals in Ulster County against discrimination, the Ulster County legislature garnered unanimous support for a county human rights law.

On Sept. 12, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein signed the Ulster County Human Rights Protection Act of 2018 into law at the A.J. Williams-Myers African Roots Library in Kingston. This law will go into effect once it has been filed with the state.

Without a county human rights law, cases are referred to the State Human Rights Commission, currently requiring Ulster County residents to travel to Albany just to have their cases heard. According to their website, the Human Rights Commission “exists to foster respect for the rights of all citizens and to explore opportunities for improving relations among all people of Ulster County,” and does not have the power for mediation or conciliation. Once a complaint is filed at the state level, the Division of Human Rights will investigate and may present the case in a public hearing.

Currently they provide consultation and assistance to individuals seeking to file complaints with the state and provide sample workplace harassment policies and trainings to employers. This law grants the commission the power to examine complaints of discrimination, mediate and help resolve them.

We at The New Paltz Oracle commend our local legislature on the bipartisan effort to pass a quality piece of legislation despite the polarized political climate across the country. We would like to especially acknowledge the efforts of Hein, Chairman of the Ulster County Legislature Ken Ronk and the Democratic caucus in garnering support for the law.

Requiring an individual who has been discriminated against to travel to Albany in order to seek justice is at best inconvenient and at worst problematic. It is no short trip to Albany and it is a lot to ask an individual with a full-time job, family or any number of responsibilities to dedicate the hours it would require to travel to Albany and back to ultimately file a complaint.

This additional burden can cause an individual to hesitate in coming forward with a complaint depending on their ability and availability to travel. Thus, a large number of cases of discrimination may go unheard, due to the inconvenience and challenge of approaching the state Human Rights Commission.

With the passage of the Ulster County Human Rights Act of 2018, complaints can be filed and mediated locally, granting an individual the capacity to obtain complete justice in the given situation.

In addition to providing a local avenue for complainants, those 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.

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 issue 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.

Additionally, the Ulster County Human Rights Commission has the authority to levy fines against violations, in addition to the examination, mediation and resolution of complaints.

Previous efforts to pass similar legislation in Ulster County were thwarted by bipartisan disagreements. The entrenched partisanship across the country equates far beyond difference of opinion and has crippled effective governing. 

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, when asked to evaluate the Democratic Party’s ideology, 55 percent of Republicans give the Democratic Party the most liberal rating possible, and the share of Republicans who give the Democratic Party similar ratings has increased 10 percentage points, from 45 percent, since 2016.

This polarization has had an effect on civil discourse as well. According to another report by the Pew Research Center in 2016, the proportion of Republicans who say Democrats are more closed-minded than other Americans is 52 percent, with similarly unfavorable views in other categories: less moral (47 percent), lazier (46 percent), more dishonest (45 percent) and less intelligent (32 percent). Among Democrats, 70 percent say Republicans are more closed-minded than other Americans, while 35 percent say they’re less moral, 18 percent say they’re lazier, 42 percent say they’re more dishonest and 33 percent say they’re less intelligent.

Gun control, abortion, fracking, climate change, immigration, school vouchers and healthcare are just a few on the short list of issues that Democrats and Republicans are metaphorically swinging at each other over. Human rights continues to be another hot button topic in recent years.

We at The Oracle are pleased to see the efforts of those in our local legislature who have been working to pass similar legislation for over a decade be realized with this law. Furthermore, we are proud that all the individuals with a capacity to weigh in on the development of this law were able to work through the process as a body, without compromising the quality of this piece of legislation.

Providing a local avenue is not only convenient for complainants, but empowers local legislature and law enforcement to help individuals being discriminated against to seek justice right here at home. We fully support the passage of this law and appreciate the unfaltering efforts by our local government to craft and enact tangible and effective legislation to protect human rights.