A Kennewick city councilman called on the city’s elected leaders Tuesday to request the state attorney general drop a lawsuit against a Richland florist who refused to serve a gay couple.
Councilman John Trumbo introduced a “Resolution affirming Freedom of Conscience” toward the end of the council’s regular meeting. The resolution is based on one drafted by Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, in support of Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers.
Trumbo said he first heard of the resolution when Backholm spoke at a Rotary club meeting in the Tri-Cities. The Family Policy Institute is one of Stutzman’s supporters, and Backholm has appealed to local government officials to support his resolution.
“It would be best if the first resolution to be signed came from the Tri-Cities,” Trumbo said.
Councilman Bob Parks urged the council take action on the resolution. Councilman Greg Jones suggested it first be passed on to the budget and administrative committee and the council agreed by consensus. After this group’s review, the proposed resolution will return to council.
A Benton County Superior Court judge ruled earlier this year Stutzman broke the law when she told longtime customer Robert Ingersoll in March 2013 she couldn’t provide services for his wedding to partner Curt Freed because of her religious beliefs.
Stutzman is a Christian from the Southern Baptist tradition.
The couple and the state filed three separate lawsuits against Stutzman. Her attorneys recently filed appeal notices with the state Supreme Court to hear the case.
• The council approved paying a wireless company about $49,000 to settle a lawsuit about utility taxes.
The settlement, which will be used as a credit toward future utility tax payments from New Cingular, was on the council’s consent agenda. The settlement amount is a fraction of the nearly $293,000 that the Delaware-based wireless provider, now part of AT&T, originally sought from the city.
New Cingular’s parent company was sued by Washington customers in 2010 for wrongly charging them for utility taxes for data services, according to court documents. AT&T settled those lawsuits by saying it would seek refunds of those taxes from the municipalities they were paid to and refund them to customers.
That led to New Cingular filing claims with many cities across the state seeking a refund of taxes paid, often to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most cities rejected the claims, and New Cingular filed lawsuits.
However, a decision from the state Court of Appeals last summer involving the lawsuit against the city of Bothell determined New Cingular could only seek taxes paid three years prior to their lawsuit, given the statute of limitations and the company’s failure to exhaust other means of repayment.
Kennewick’s settlement is comparable to one New Cingular reached with the city of Richland in May. Richland will refund about $53,000 to the company, roughly 15 percent of the $367,000 it initially claimed. Officials with the city of Pasco said they have no record of New Cingular filing a lawsuit against the city after dropping one in 2012. West Richland is still reviewing a possible settlement.