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Jacksonville City Council smacks down hit-free zone bill again, OKs food desert fix

Tuesday evening saw the Jacksonville City Council approve plans to remedy local food deserts

Meanwhile, a bill authorizing a “hit-free zone” in City Hall died its final death, despite amendments to bring reluctant councilors around.

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The “hit-free zone” legislation had trouble again on the Council floor, where it was for a second straight time.

Two weeks ago, the bill was deferred, with concerns about everything from “big government” overreach and inhibiting parental discipline to effects on employees tasked with stopping people from hitting each other in offices like the tax collector and supervisor of elections shops.

Last week, the legislation slogged through committees. Two panels voted the legislation up 4-3; the third group downed it 3-4.

A floor substitute included changing the name of the “hit-free zone” and a clause saying that parental discipline will be exempt from the bill’s ever-shrinking list or prohibitions.

Councilman Al Ferraro, often diffident over the years, was aggressive in pushing hard against the bill, finding holes in lack of specificity regarding employee training and the like.

“Is it a five ounce hit, swat? A two pound swat,” Ferraro asked. “There’s too many open ended questions on here… I am upset about how this was framed; if we are disciplining a child, it’s compared to child abuse.”

Dennis got emotional, describing in great detail the compromises he had made throughout the process.

“Let’s let the citizens of Jacksonville know City Hall is a safe place,” Dennis said.

From the Lenny Curry administration, CFO Mike Weinstein cautioned that the bill may take six months at least to roll out, given risk management, liability, and training issues.  An amendment carried to allow six months to move forward.

“Right now, if someone assaults somebody, it’s a crime and we deal with it. We’re stepping into an area that’s a little gray,” Weinstein said, regarding “liability concerns” and litigation qualms.

City Hall security, added Weinstein, would be elevated to the category of “first responders.”

Councilors Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown offered support to the bill, which Ferraro called “doubletalk” in light of the inevitability of the bill becoming something bigger than a city hall pilot program.

“We are going to take money and teach employees how to discipline other people’s children … you know there’s going to be a lawsuit here,” Ferraro said.

The back and forth continued.

Councilman Greg Anderson lauded the aspirational intent of the bill as a “spark … a start of a conversation that may spread.”

Councilman Bill Gulliford, meanwhile, said the bill was “a solution looking for a problem,” given the lack of physical violence in City Hall (a place where mental and emotional agonies are much more par for the course).

The bill ultimately failed, via a 9-9 vote.

Councilman Dennis’ political ally, Council President Anna Brosche, was absent. And as was the case with a pension reform bill in 2015, a tie vote killed the bill.

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2018-195 approved encumbering $3 million from the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Trust Fund to recruit grocers or other “food options” to move into the Northwest Quadrant, which is about to see two grocery stores close.

The “food options” language was a result of committee discussions, in which there was robust disagreement about whether the area would support brick and mortar chain grocery stores or not.

The bill passed the Finance Committee, in its only stop before the full Council’s appraisal.

 

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 FloridaPolitics.com 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 a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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