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Anti-discrimination ordinance unsettles some in Janesville

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Elliot Hughes
Monday, March 28, 2016

JANESVILLE—The Janesville City Council passed an ordinance Monday that will protect people who use public restrooms according to the gender they identify with, despite concerns about how the ordinance would protect children from predators.

The ordinance is designed to prevent discrimination in public accommodations and employment for a variety of classes of people. Included among those classes are gender identity and gender expression.

The ordinance specifically states that public spaces must “allow an individual to use the bathroom of the gender that they identify with.”

Seven people told the council Monday that the ordinance would create a loophole for sexual predators to exploit. After the meeting, however, City Attorney Wald Klimczyk said that is not true.

Anyone, regardless of any gender identification claim, would still be prosecuted for lewd acts or any other offenses in a bathroom, he said.

“Those laws still apply,” Klimczyk said.

Opponents repeatedly referred to a June 2014 incident in which a Janesville man photographed a 5-year-old girl in a Palmer Park bathroom.

Joshua L. Miller was sentenced to 120 days in jail and four years of probation on two counts of capturing nude images of children in that case. Opponents of Monday's ordinance argued that the offender in a similar situation would be able to duck conviction if he claimed to identify as a woman and thus belonged in the bathroom.

Opponents who attended Monday's meeting frequently said they do not discriminate against transgender people and are only worried about predators exploiting loopholes.

“A sexual predator by nature is looking for loopholes,” said Mike Dissmore, pastor at Christ the Rock Church in Janesville.

Similar laws across the country have been considered by various communities and states. Houston, Texas, repealed an ordinance in the face of similar arguments last fall. Other communities have not faced controversy.

But in a 6-1 vote, that line of argument was only good enough to sway council President Douglas Marklein. He said the feedback he received before the meeting was “two-to-one against” and concluded that Janesville was not ready for the ordinance.

Council members Sam Liebert and Mark Bobzien sponsored the ordinance.

Liebert and Bobzien argued that parents have always been cautious about allowing young children to use public restrooms, and the ordinance wouldn't change anything. If parents are suspicious about a bathroom for whatever reason, they can use another one or accompany their child inside, they said.

ANOTHER SPEC-BUILDING

For the second time this month, the Janesville City Council took steps to create more vacant industrial space in the city.

The council voted unanimously Monday to bestow $914,600 worth of financial incentives to Milwaukee-based Greywolf Partners, which has plans to build a $100,000-square-foot industrial facility on speculation at 100 Innovation Drive.

The council has also struck TIF deals for spec-building projects as recently as two weeks ago and 10 months ago.

One of them, which is 150,000 square feet, earned $1.2 million in incentives and now hosts IPM Foods. The second, a 100,000-square-foot building, got a $621,900 package and is expected to be built and filled with one or more tenants in about a year.

Greywolf will receive 18.6 acres of land valued at $638,000 and a forgivable loan of $276,600. The building, which is expected to be built by 2017, would increase the land value to $5.25 million, according to city documents.

City officials believe the developer will find a tenant quickly, given high demand for industrial space in Janesville.


Last updated: 9:49 pm Monday, March 28, 2016


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