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Anne Arundel Council reject bill that treats equity as discrimination

An Anne Arundel County Council bill that mirrored legislation about so-called critical race theory being proposed around the country failed in a 3-4 vote late Monday evening.

The bill would have created a new description of discrimination in county law and would have restricted the use of county funds for said discrimination. Before it was amended, the bill defined discrimination as a belief that any sex, race, religion, color or national origin is superior or inferior, that individuals should be treated differently based on those factors and that members of a given group are responsible for the actions of others in that same group.

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The bill could have affected a person’s ability to speak honestly about the country’s history of racist, sexist and ableist laws and practices, the county’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Pete Hill said when testifying against the measure.

Hill said the bill’s author Councilman Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, had been vague in the bill’s language, allowing it to be interpreted in a way that would have a chilling effect on workplace training about subjects like bias and sexual harassment. Hill said under the legislation he could be in trouble for leading a sexual harassment training and presenting a study that showed male supervisors harass employees more frequently than female supervisors. He could be in trouble for stating a fact, he said.

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“The male supervisors attending my class could file a discrimination complaint because they believe I am blaming them for the actions of the male supervisors who I’ve cited in that study,” he said.

The difference between equity and equality was mentioned Monday.

Equality means everyone gets the same treatment, regardless of factors like historic and present discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, disability and more. Equity recognizes that different people face different circumstances because of that discrimination, and therefore different people need different treatment to reach the same goal — be it stable housing, a job, an education, raising a family or getting to and from places.

Volke wants equality, not equity, because what is considered “fair” under equity can change, he said. He said treating people differently, including through an equity approach, is discrimination.

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“I would ask this, who decides what’s fair? Where is that specified? Who can change what fair means? The answer is simply whoever’s in control,” Volke said.

Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien, D-Annapolis, said the all-white council needs to consider that their grandparents were not threatened for trying to vote, and they have not faced the harm of local government decisions, like the building of Whitmore Parking garage over a Black community.

“We don’t experience the kind of discrimination that people of color experience. So we have two choices. We can either pretend that none of that matters and we’re all equal and everything is fine, or we can do our job and love our country, love the dream of our country, the vision of our country and work to heal,” she said.

Rodvien said past and present discrimination has created a wound that needs to be healed, and the equity approach public schools use is an attempt to do just that.

After submitting the bill with a reference to “critical race theory,” Volke sought to make an amendment removing that phrase Monday evening. He said he thought some people might support the bill absent the phrase.

Councilwoman Allison Pickard, D- Millersville, said the inclusion of the phrase “critical race theory” roused the community, which she said was Volke’s intended goal. She said Volke is wasting the body’s time with the amendment.

“Critical race theory didn’t need to be mentioned in this bill, but it was and you got what you wanted. You got your Tucker Carlson moment and it’s disgusting,” she said.

Council chair Sarah Lacey, D-Jessup, said the county has expanded its definition of groups protected from discrimination beyond what state law requires, protecting from discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, age, immigration status, source of income, and political affiliation. She said Volke’s bill left its definition incomplete.

“None of those are in this bill because what this bill intends to do is basically new speak, George Orwell, 1984. New speak for the concept of discrimination,” she said.

Councilman Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills, was frustrated with the bill, saying it was a waste of the council’s time. Pruski, Lacey, Rodvien and Pickard voted against the measure.

“I’m sitting in my district right now, getting emails from people who are unemployed, who have affordable housing issues, and we’re talking about this,” Pruski said.

Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler R-Arnold, and Councilwoman Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater, voted in favor of the bill and Volke’s amendments but did not comment during the meeting about the matter.

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