New Human Rights Law inspiring concern

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 7/12/20

Sullivan County’s Human Rights Commission, in limbo since the beginning of the year, will be back in business. It’s just unclear whether it will be the same sort of organization.

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New Human Rights Law inspiring concern

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MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County’s Human Rights Commission, in limbo since the beginning of the year, will be back in business. It’s just unclear whether it will be the same sort of organization.
At issue is a proposed human rights law, which will set out new parameters for the commission. A public hearing is reportedly scheduled for Thursday, July 16.

The Human Rights Commission was created to foster good relationships between all people in the county. They “receive complaints of alleged discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, religion or national origin, gender, age, disability, actual or perceived sexual orientation/preference, marital status, or criminal conviction to the extent provided by Correction Law §752, and attempt to resolve such conflicts through intervention or referral.”

The commission also educates the community and works with groups to foster mutual understanding.
It has been staffed by a paid, part-time executive director, answering to nine volunteer commissioners. The commission has been independent of the legislature.

There has not been an executive director since the fall of 2019, and when the terms of three commissioners expired at the end of that year, the positions were not filled. The Sullivan County Democratic Committee, in a June statement, said that commissioners did not have access to email, so human rights complaints might have gone unaddressed.

Following are some highlights of the proposed law:

The county manager would appoint the executive director—after consultation with the commission, the draft says—and the director would be responsible to the county manager “for the implementation of policies established by the Sullivan County Legislature.”

The director would educate the community on human rights issues, “receive and respond to inquiries regarding human rights” and refer complaints to other agencies as needed.

The office would inquire into incidents of “tension and conflict” within its purview and “make recommendations or take such action as may be designed to alleviate such tensions and conflict.”
They would “advise persons on how to file complaints with appropriate state and federal agencies dealing with discrimination and, in appropriate circumstances, provide facilities and equipment to assist persons in filing such complaints... investigate, as may be needed, and prepare its own plans” with a goal of eliminating discrimination.

Concerns have been expressed that the commission would be cut to five members; this is unclear in the draft; both nine and five are mentioned. (See section A10A-5 Human Rights Commission; composition; appointment; term.)

Commissioners would be allowed to raise funds “that are not included in the office’s budget and are necessary to support the work of the commission.”

The new law will rescind all prior resolutions pertaining to the Human Rights Commission and its director when the law takes effect.

The draft version can be viewed at www.bit.ly/schrc or through the county’s human rights commission page at www.sullivanny.us/departments/humanrights.

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