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Jacksonville City Council smacks down ‘hit-free zone’ bill

On Tuesday evening, the Jacksonville City Council pushed back to committees a resolution making all city property “hit-free zones.”

Resolution 2018-171 would create “areas in which no adult shall hit another adult, no adult shall hit a child, no child shall hit an adult, and no child shall hit another child.”

A noble goal. A seemingly innocuous measure. But there were objections.

Some were along the “spare the rod, spoil the child” lines. Others expressed qualms about a ban on spanking on city property being tantamount to the beginning of a totalitarian nightmare.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg said the bill was “government overreach,” drawing distinctions between a “soft spank” and abuse.

Councilman Danny Becton said the bill put parents in “precarious positions,” wondering if “this was really a problem out in public.”

Council VP Aaron Bowman raised qualms about the financial impact of the bill, and questioned whether signs like this accomplish anything.

Councilman Bill Gulliford seconded Bowman’s play, noting that when government gets involved, there are unintended consequences.

Councilman Al Ferraro noted that this “big government” bill would preclude a parent punishing his or her child if said child was stealing something from a purse, and would be tantamount to “government raising our children.”

Councilman Reggie Brown cautioned that “spanking sometimes is necessary.”

Councilman Sam Newby supported the bill in committee, but doesn’t “see the data for the bill” now.

Councilwoman Joyce Morgan said “there are more questions than answers” on this bill.

From the Mayor’s Office, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa noted that bill sponsor Garrett Dennis had not “solicited” the administration for input on the bill, and if the bill passes, it would have to be evaluated.

“Who decides what discipline is, compared to what abuse is,” asked Mousa.

Dennis, emotional, claimed the opprobrium from his colleagues was personal.

“There are some people, when they introduce bills, have holes poked into it,” Dennis said, when re-referral to committee was brought up.

This led a smiling Council VP Bowman, pushing for re-referral, to urge Dennis “to read the tea leaves.”

Dennis was adamant, saying that Council should “go on the record.”

However, the re-referral motion was unanimous, including Dennis’ vote.

Costs for this program, which would involve installation of smaller signs or posters, are unknown. Also unknown: the unintended consequences for employees having to referee interactions between consumers of city services and their children.

Both committees of reference passed the measure, but in each panel, votes were not unanimous, and concerns were raised about what was framed as a less-than-fleshed out piece of legislation.

This could have been seen as foreshadowing.

In Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety, Council members had qualms about impacts ranging from costs to imposing another burden on an overstretched workforce, before a 6-1 vote in favor of the measure.

In Finance, which bill sponsor Dennis chairs, the road was no less rocky toward a 5-2 vote in favor, with Council members discussing how they punished their kids in years gone by.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at

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