Chambersburg mayor vetoes nondiscrimination ordinance approved by Borough Council

The Council needs 7 votes to override the veto.

  • Gabriela Martínez

(Chambersburg) — An LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law approved by the Chambersburg Borough Council is going back for reconsideration following a veto by Mayor Walter Bietsch.

On Sept. 20, council voted 7-3 to pass the ordinance.

In a letter explaining the reason for the veto, Bietsch said the law does not provide a mechanism of enforcement. He also said it does not specify a way for businesses or individuals accused of discrimination to respond to a complaint.

Bietsch said the exploratory committee that researched the law did not establish a “single, verifiable incident” of discrimination in the community.

“Facts matter and facts are stubborn things,” he wrote. “There is no factual foundation for the establishment of this ordinance. I find that the ordinance appears to be nothing more than an ideological solution to a non-proven problem.”

A majority of elected council members plus one — which in Chambersburg equals seven, the same number that voted for the law — would have to appear and vote in order to override the veto. If that happens, the law will be approved without the mayor’s signature, Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill said in a statement.

Council President Alice Elia noted the 7-3 vote to pass the law.

“It just felt like a bit of a backtrack on something that felt pretty solidly set, and in part because seven people voted in favor of it. There was already enough support on Council for it to pass to be veto-proof,” Elia said.

Six Democrats and one Republican voted in favor of the law. Three other Republicans voted against.

The Republican Vice-President of the Council, Mike Herbert, said after the vote that he voted for the law because he discovered there is a gap in state law that could be filled by a local ordinance. Herbert was part of the exploratory committee.

Shippensburg, Gettysburg and Bloomsburg adopted LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in 2020.

Other board members and advocates said they supported the law for similar reasons.

Council members Allan Coffman and Bill Everly, who voted against the law, said the process to approve the local human relations ordinance was being rushed through, and that similar protections already exist.

The ordinance would allow for the creation of a five-member Human Relations Commission. The members would be trained at no cost by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to handle discrimination claims related race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin and disability.

The Council is scheduled to reconsider the law at 7 p.m. Oct. 11 in Council Chambers at City Hall.

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