A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 334

A.G. Gancarski

Shad Khan: No to Muslim Ban, Yes to HRO

In Houston for the Superbowl, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan broke with the city’s right wing on two hot-button issues.

Khan, a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, came out against the controversial Donald Trump immigration/travel ban from seven majority-Muslim countries.

And, for good measure, he expressed — to a national publication — his support for the expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression at work, in housing, and in public accommodations in businesses that aren’t churches or small businesses.

That HRO support was known around Jacksonville; however, discussing it nationally should be seen as a signal.

This bill has its first committee stop on Monday morning. And Khan expects the politicians he’s been working to deliver in committee and when the full council votes on the measure on Feb. 14.

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On the Muslim ban, Khan broke with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry in a significant way.

“The bedrock of this country are immigration and really a great separation between church and state,” Khan told the New York Times, describing the ban as “not good” and “sobering” for him personally.

Curry had said, meanwhile, that “when the federal government moves to protect [American citizens], that’s the right move. The Trump administration is trying to protect [Americans] from terrorism.”

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On the HRO, meanwhile, Khan said he had “no remorse over supporting it.”

Indeed, Khan and his lobbyist, Paul Harden, have been making calls on behalf of the legislation — and Khan has been known to say that he can’t believe this issue is unresolved in Jacksonville.

Curry has said previously that expanding the Human Rights Ordinance would not be “prudent,” but has pledged to review legislation if presented to him by the city council.

The mayor, who values his relationship with the Jaguars owner, has not pledged a position on the current bill beyond that.

HRO onslaught hits Jacksonville City Council committees starting Monday

A sign of the times in Jacksonville’s City Council as discussion of expanding the Human Rights Ordinance begins next week: requests for press passes to the February 14 meeting when the full vote is expected to occur are already being taken.

The public hearing in January drew an overflow crowd to the council chambers, leading the fire department to bar entry.

Two more rooms, then the conference room in the public library, were opened up for the discussion of expanding Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include employment, housing, and public accommodations protections for the city’s LGBT community.

What will the evening of the vote be like? No one really knows.

With each attempt to pass the bill, passions grow more intense on both sides of the issue among the public, while most members of the council demur from offering a position with any conviction — never mind intensity.

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Meanwhile, Council President Lori Boyer wants a clean process.

“I am hopeful that this bill moves through committees without deferral and that committee reports (votes) up or down are taken in accordance with the original schedule allowing final action at Council in mid-February. Any delay will cause the procedures outlined herein to be extended,” Boyer wrote in a memo last month.

“The bill has been assigned to NCIS (because it addresses housing issues), Rules (because it addresses consumer issues and unclassified matters) and Finance (because it purports to have economic development impact),” Boyer added.

Of course, that time table may be altered by the expectation that Councilman Bill Gulliford will offer an amendment with a referendum option of some type.

Gulliford is in the first committee (Neighborhoods), and the last committee (Finance), to consider the bill. And he delights in exploiting parliamentary procedure to frustrate adversaries.

As is known, and as vexes many expansion opponents, there will be no public comment on the bill in committees or the council meeting Feb. 14.

If Gulliford were to offer that amendment in Finance on Wednesday rather than on Monday in Neighborhoods, that may create enough confusion to throw off the whole process.

Advocates are confident in their vote count being enough to pass the bill, though there are real worries about getting the 13 votes required to make the mayor’s position irrelevant (and a general belief that the mayor would prefer the bill pass with 13).

Some quasi-informed speculation about the vote count follows:

A total of six council members seem like hard no votes at this point: Councilman Gulliford, along with Danny Becton, Al FerraroDoyle Carter, Matt Schellenberg, and Sam Newby.

People who seem like maybes: Scott Wilson, Council President Lori Boyer, Garrett Dennis, Anna BroscheGreg AndersonReggie Brown, and Katrina Brown.

The remaining members of council — Aaron BowmanJim LoveTommy Hazouri, Council VP John CrescimbeniJoyce Morgan, and Reggie Gaffney — seem like yes votes headed into the committee process.

Many of those in the maybe column are more voluble on the HRO in private conversations than in public. But the game is played in front of a crowd.

If all those in the maybe column vote yes, then there is no problem for Mayor Lenny Curry, who can simply say “look, the city council is the policy making body,” and move on.

If the bill passes with 10, 11, or 12 votes, will the mayor sign it or put it in his pocket?

A veto, though it would delight the GOP base, undoubtedly would inflame many others — diluting his political capital and eviscerating his ability to build city-wide consensus.

We are hearing that the referendum option Gulliford supports leaves the mayor cold.

If the HRO were to be litigated by the city’s activists on both sides of the issue for over a year in the media, one needn’t have a vivid imagination to surmise that the spectacle would be devastating for corporate recruitment, leading to the kind of national reporting spotlight that shined on North Carolina in the wake of HB 2.

All of this discussion and speculation purposely elides what may be happening in Tallahassee and Washington on the matter of LGBT protections in law.

Rob Bradley seeks to repeal Florida’s Certificate of Need program

On Friday, Florida State Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill to repeal the state’s controversial Certificate of Need program. And Gov. Rick Scott supports the measure.

Senate Bill 676 would eliminate the Certificate of Need (CON) Program at the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Currently, health care providers require a certificate of need prior before building or converting hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices.

Under Bradley’s bill, the Agency for Health Care Administration would develop licensure rules for new providers, and sets guidelines for the licensure of hospitals and hospice facilities.

Bradley, a traditional free-market conservative, believes that competition will help reduce health care costs for consumers.

“By eliminating the state’s restrictive CON process we’ll increase competition and drive down the cost of health care for Floridians,” said Senator Bradley. “For years, this cumbersome process has been used to block the expansion of facilities and restrict competition. So, in addition to driving costs, we should also see a significant economic impact in terms of the creation of new jobs by removing this barrier.”

Gov. Scott, who has been focused on health care cost reform throughout his tenure, backs this play.

“I’ve traveled across our state and spoken with Floridians who have been charged unconscionable prices for procedures. This session, I want to fight to make the healthcare system fair for families and ensure health care works for patients and not for hospitals’ bottom lines. I look forward to working with Senator Bradley to champion this legislation as we continue to help bring greater access, quality, transparency and fairness to patients,” Gov. Scott asserted.

Steering policy in this model: local health councils, which would be selected regionally and would have carve out membership requirements ensuring that all counties in a given area have a say, and ensuring that seniors are represented on the councils.

These panels would provide guidance, and serve as an intermediary between local and state governmental concerns.

These councils would be paid for via assessments on licensed medical facilities, including such as hospices and abortion clinics.

Hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices would pay a fee per bed; other facilities would get a flat rate cost of $150 per annum.

Bradley is making a number of strategic, big picture plays that speak to a larger understanding of collaboration this session.

An example of such: his introduction of a bill Senate President Joe Negron backs, to bond out $1.2 million (a number matched by federal funds) for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, right around the time he requested $45 million of Amendment 1 funds for the Keystone Lakes and the St. Johns River.

With a conservative Florida House and momentum in the Florida Senate, this may be the year the Certificate of Need program finally goes away.

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Lenny Curry, Nikolai Vitti may collaborate against youth gun violence

February started off with a worrying story for parents and guardians of children in Duval County Public Schools.

As News 4 Jax reports, students with guns were found at three Jacksonville schools on Wednesday.

One of those schools: an elementary school.

DCPS Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told “THE Local Station” that parents need to be more involved, and that “it will take a team effort from administration, staff, police and parents to keep guns out of schools” (quote from reporter, not Vitti).

It looks like the “team” may be bigger than that, however.

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FloridaPolitics.com learned on Thursday night and Friday morning that the offices of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti are in the early stages of collaboration against youth violence.

Curry’s spokeswoman, Marsha Oliver, came to the mayor’s office from Vitti’s office. And Oliver has been central in the preliminary stages of this effort.

“I have been meeting with my successor [at DCPS] and the district’s Chief of Staff to discuss how we can collaborate on a citywide campaign to minimize youth violence. We are in the development stages and have not determined any plans. The superintendent has expressed enthusiasm about partnering with the mayor, sheriff and state attorney to address the reported incidents of gang violence. The two are meeting next week,” Oliver told us Friday.

Vitti likewise confirmed that staff members are meeting, and that he is getting together with the mayor to discuss strategies to engage youth.

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The New Year has started off with a number of high-profile public safety challenges for the mayor in Downtown Jacksonville involving juveniles and guns.

The shooting at January’s ArtWalk — which saw two minors shot — was followed up by two more teens shot near the Jacksonville Landing on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

One of those teens shot at the Jacksonville Landing died.

As these incidents indicate, a public safety crisis in the making is driven by teens with guns, and the mayor has an interest in quelling that.

A potential strategy for the mayor could involve going to public schools, as well as churches and community events, and telling young people that they should help by identifying who has guns and other potentially lethal weapons, especially in schools but also churches and community events.

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Time would seem to be of the essence in this rollout for both Vitti and Curry, as soon enough the inevitable violence of spring and summer will wreak its havoc on Jacksonville streets.

For Vitti, who came close to being voted out by the school board last year amidst a mysterious acrimony with the then-current chair of the school board, every incident involving weapons erodes his credibility as superintendent.

For Curry, who ran on a platform of public safety and crime abatement, there is likewise no time like the present to address these issues — the convergence of shaky neighborhoods, shaky home lives, and undirected kids having easier access to guns and munitions than to meaningful supervision and direction.

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Rumbles around city hall — the kind that no one will commit to the record — hold that Curry reached out to Vitti wanting to speak to kids last month, in the wake of the violence.

However, goes the narrative, Curry was waved off, with Vitti saying DCPS didn’t want to “alarm parents.”

Oliver and Vitti robustly deny that accounting of events.

“I’d never deny the mayor a chance to talk to kids in our schools,” Vitti told FloridaPolitics.com

Jacksonville LGBT rights opponents speak; Bill Gulliford talks HRO referendum

On Thursday, opponents of Jacksonville’s proposed expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance had their say in the Council Chambers.

Councilman Bill Gulliford, launching the meeting, noted the passion surrounding this issue, which is now in its fifth year of being debated citywide.

“I decided to have this meeting for several reasons,” Gulliford said, including “objective discussion” of these issues, and the “disappointing” lack of public comment being allowed during committee discussions next week.

Gulliford then discussed the issues being discussed, including legal issues, economic impacts, religious conscience, and the potential for a referendum.

Gulliford filed a bill in favor of the referendum late in 2015, and withdrew it after Tommy Hazouri withdrew his own bill that is much like the current bill up for discussion

“I will at the appropriate time introduce that option of a referendum in the process,” the councilman vowed.

That option, he said, “could be” introduced during committees, if he believes it’s “prudent” at the time.

Notable: a referendum can only amend the charter, not the ordinance code.

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Council members on hand had their own takes on a referendum.

Councilman Reggie Brown, an opponent of the referendum option, noted that civil rights expansions such as in 1865 and 1965 would not have passed by referendum, but were still necessary and historically validated nonetheless.

Councilman Sam Newby, meanwhile, issued support for a referendum. Councilman Al Ferraro likewise supported a referendum, as a way of instituting finality.

“I would support a referendum if this went forward,” Ferraro said.

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Beyond that, there was robust discussion, much of it against the HRO expansion.

Gulliford then called up the perennial legal expert on his side of this issue: Roger Gannam of the Liberty Counsel, making his umpteenth trip to city hall to speak to the issue of “legal problems” with the proposed legislation.

On the issue of “gender identity,” Gannam postulated that the bill’s definition of such was “broad.”

It was impossible for a business owner or the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, which would enforce this, to determine the applicability of people who identify as “gender fluid,” “non-binary,” or other such terms, Gannam said.

Councilman Danny Becton spoke to his problem with the bill.

The shortening of the bill to five pages, Becton said, creates an impression of false transparency, as the bill doesn’t itemize every change to code that was made, but just lists the relevant changes to statute.

“Words have just been condensed down to a couple of numbers,” Becton said. “This bill is the exact same bill [as 2016]. It’s been marketed as something that it’s not.”

Rev. Charlene Cothran from Palm Coast spoke up next, a former member of the Human Rights Commission and a longtime lesbian activist, who has been “transformed” after 29 years of activism.

Cothran’s line of reasoning: the LGBT rights movement is not analogous to the civil rights movement.

“They now demand special rights, after they stay in the closet at their convenience,” Cothran said.

“Homosexuals can and do change,” said Cothran.

Former Jacksonville City Council candidate Geoff Youngblood had his say also.

“I would not be able to keep everyone safe if a male who [acted] female went into the women’s bathroom and accosted one of my employees,” Youngblood said.

Youngblood runs a seasonal business, with staffing that occasionally exceeds 15 people; the bill’s definition of a small business would penalize his business by forcing him to abide by the ordinance.

Youngblood called for a referendum, saying “let the people decide,” especially if the council is “fearful” of a decision.

Rev. Heath Lambert of First Baptist Church voiced his objections to the proposed ordinance also.

“This is a debate about convictions, not about discrimination. The conviction of LGBT men and women,” Lambert said, is they should be “affirmed.”

“The Christian conviction,” said Lambert, is that the LGBT lifestyle is one of many sexual sins, including pornography and adultery.

“The passage of this ordinance would be to pick a favorite,” Lambert said, between the LGBT community and the Christian community.

“If the council decides to discriminate against people of religious conviction,” Lambert added, this would “bring true harm.”

Lambert then pivoted to a discussion of sexual abuse survivors of his acquaintance, and their fear of a “man who looks like a man, but feels himself to be a woman” being in a room with them.

“They’re too scared,” Lambert said, to speak out in public.

“They’re not afraid of that moment in the bathroom alone. They’re afraid of what the city council will do to them,” in terms of this ordinance potentially passing.

Council VP John Crescimbeni pressed Lambert on his discussion of “convictions, sins, et cetera,” pointing out that religion is protected in the Constitution.

Crescimbeni also objected to the “baker, the butcher, and the candlestick maker” discussions of small businesses from elsewhere that have gotten national exposure to religiously-driven objection to anti-discrimination ordinances.

Crescimbeni wondered if these parties objected to “heterosexual couples living together outside of marriage.”

“Gender is an ontological objective reality,” Lambert said in response.

\Competitive Workforce Act filed once again in Legislature

On Thursday, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act was filed again in the Florida Legislature, this time by Rep. Ben Diamond and Rep. Rene Plascenia on the House side, and Sen. Jeff Clemens in the Senate.

House Bill 623/Senate Bill 666 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

The FCWA would amend Ch. 760 of the Florida State Statutes (“The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992“), which bars such discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, pregnancy, or marital status.

The bill has been filed for multiple years now.

Its first filing was in 2009, and it has slowly but surely gotten traction since.

Florida needs to make sure it stays competitive in a global marketplace,” said Sen. Clemens.

“Recruiting the best-trained, most innovative workforce means eliminating discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. This makes good business sense, but more importantly, it’s the right thing to do. We need to signal that Florida is the best place in the world for workers and businesses,” Clemens added.

“I am proud to file this bipartisan legislation in the Florida House,” said Rep. Diamond. “Young, well-educated workers are looking for diverse and inclusive communities to build their careers. By modernizing our civil rights laws, we can protect our LGBT community from discrimination, and make Florida a more competitive state in the global economy. That is good for our businesses, our workers, and for all Floridians.”

“This issue is critical to the state’s economic success. It’s imperative that businesses, employees and families know that Florida is open for business,” said Rep. Plasencia. “Florida must remain one of the top places in the nation to live, work and play, and by promising equal opportunity employment, and affirming basic human rights to the LGBT community, we can be confident in continued business growth.”

Yet again, this bill is a bipartisan effort.

In 2016, the FCWA received bipartisan support in the Florida Senate and House, with Republicans like Travis Hutson and Jack Latvala co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate, and Republican Rep. Holly Raschein sponsoring it in the House.

Though the bipartisan support was encouraging to supporters, neither the House nor the Senate bill made it through one committee last session.

The bill died in the Economic Affairs Committee in the House and Judiciary in the Senate.

With uncertainty as to where the Donald Trump administration falls on LGBT rights, and the possibility of a national “religious liberty” executive order emerging, it will be interesting to see if the measure does better this session.

Paul Renner files Occupational Opportunity Act in House

Florida House Bill 615filed by Rep. Paul Renner of Palm Coast, would make transfers to Florida a bit easier for military families.

Also known as the “Occupational Opportunity Act,” HB 615 would compel Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation to license military members, spouses, and surviving spouses in occupations they have licenses for in other states.

The Renner bill would also extend the amount of time after discharge that such license reciprocity would be granted, from six months to two years.

Renner’s bill also waives license fees for military, spouses, and what a press release from his office calls “low-income individuals.”

Low-income individuals are those having a household income not exceeding 130 percent of federal guidelines for their household size, or enrolled in entitlement programs, such as Medicaid and SNAP.

“This bill helps two groups who most need our help: military families and those seeking a job to escape generational poverty. Moving forward,” Renner said, “we must continue to reform occupational licensing, which has become a barrier to opportunity for millions of Floridians.”

Jacksonville’s HRO expansion is in sight, but questions loom

With less than a week to go before 2017-15, the latest attempt to expand the Human Rights Ordinance, hits three Jacksonville City Council committees, advocates are rightly optimistic and proud of the progress they’ve made in educating the council.

The HRO expansion bill would include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as categories in the current HRO, protecting people on those grounds from discrimination in the housing market, the workplace, and in terms of public accommodations, such as bathrooms and locker rooms.

The carefully-worded bill includes carve out protections for businesses with under 15 employees, and for religious organizations.

Even as some outside groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, say that the religious exceptions go too far, advocates of expansion know that they are the price to pay to get a HRO passed that protects people on the grounds of gender identity.

There is some rough consensus on the vote count that will emerge February 14.

Most say there are at least 11 votes in favor; the goal is 13, a number that would remove Mayor Lenny Curry from having to take a position on it either way.

Despite that, there are reasons for caution, on the local, state, and national levels.

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On the local level, a familiar face returns to City Hall to warn against HRO expansion on Thursday afternoon.

Roger Gannam of the Liberty Council will address members of the panel at 2:00 p.m. Thursday, at the request of Councilman Bill Gulliford (an opponent of expansion of the ordinance).

Gannam asserts that “Jacksonville does not have an LGBT discrimination problem that needs to be solved.”

2017-15, says Gannam, would force “businesses and citizens” to “open their women’s facilities to men.”

The bill would also compel those same parties to “celebrate” same-sex relationships.

Gannam has had plenty of exposure in Jacksonville during the HRO debate. He’s not expected to say anything new regarding the impacts of the HRO expansion.

However, in an attempt to get 13 votes on this measure, it is entirely possible that Gannam could sway a council member toward his moral case.

The margin for error is nil for expansion advocates. And Gannam’s role is to impart reasonable doubt.

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In addition to local resistance to expanding the HRO, a bill filed in the Florida House this week could impact local ordinances such as this one.

House Bill 17, filed by Republican Randy Fine, would preempt and supersede local regulations governing businesses.

Exceptions include laws adopted before Jan. 1, 2017, though the Fine bill would have those local regulations sunset at the end of 2019.

Another exception: regulations “expressly authorized” by the state.

While Jacksonville’s current HRO, which does not include so-called SOGI protections, would qualify as a pre-existent law, any expansion of the HRO may be argued as being in conflict with the Fine bill.

Our sources in Tallahassee confirm that there will be a Senate sponsor.

While it is theoretically possible that someone in the Duval Delegation might move to have the expanded HRO “expressly authorized” by the state, in practical terms there are only two people, both Democrats, who would push for that: Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis.

The Fine bill may be less than fine for LGBT equality advocates, in its amorphously-worded current form.

One more note of caution: the low number on the bill filed on Jan. 31 suggests a tacit endorsement from House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

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On the federal level, mixed signals have been sent from the Donald Trump administration regarding LGBT rights.

While he was lauded, albeit cautiously, for continuing the Obama policy of barring workplace discrimination against federal contractors and employees, there is fear that the other shoe will drop in the form of a new executive order.

The Nation, a left-of-center publication, produced language from a so-called “leaked draft” of Trump’s  “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom” executive order.

Trump, once seen as an unlikely exponent of the policy goals of the religious right, embraced its agenda during the GOP primaries.

This draft language, according to The Nation, “covers ‘any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,’ and protects ‘religious freedom’ in every walk of life: ‘when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments’.”

 “Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the Federal Government into participating in activities that violate their conscience,” the order reads.

While there are serious questions as to what the order would ultimately mean, or even if it would pass legal scrutiny to be released in anything close to its current form, it adds another layer of uncertainty to a potential long-awaited expansion of Jacksonville’s HRO.

Lenny Curry touts ArtWalk, defends right to City Hall protest

Tuesday night as Jacksonville’s ArtWalk event began, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry called a press conference on the steps of City Hall, where just a day before, a different scene had transpired.

Curry’s press conference on Tuesday night had to do with reassuring Jacksonville that ArtWalk is a safe event to attend.

Such assurance was needed after January’s ArtWalk, at which two people were shot just blocks away from City Hall.

In Tuesday’s press event, Mayor Curry also addressed the peaceful protests that happened in front of city hall Monday night, just as much as he did the events of a month prior at ArtWalk.

Curry irked local progressives when he endorsed Donald Trump‘s refugee moratorium from seven terror-linked countries as a necessary security measure, in line with what Curry himself recommended in later 2015.

Throughout the event Tuesday evening, speakers and signs had messages for Mayor Curry, who even though he’s not in a position to impact federal policy, nonetheless endorsed it.

And indeed, a cool, calm, and collected Curry addressed on Tuesday night both the ArtWalk violence a month before, and the protests aimed at Trump and him a night before.

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Safety First: The mayor noted, regarding Artwalk, that the event had been happening “for many years without a serious incident.”

Despite issues in certain neighborhoods regarding crime and public safety, the mayor had a message.

“We’re on it. The sheriff’s on it. We’re going to focus on every neighborhood, including downtown. An event like this that has happened for years without incident — I encourage people to come out … it’s going to be a good time, and they should not be fearful,” Curry said.

The mayor and the sheriff have been talking about public safety since “before both were sworn in,” Curry said, and “major cuts to public safety” have been a recurrent topic.

“You don’t dig yourself out of that hole overnight,” Curry said. “I’m going to continue to invest. He’s going to continue to work … we’re going to get the city back where it needs to be.”

Curry also sounded bearish on the idea of youth curfews or being barred from the Jacksonville Landing, citing a classically American freedom: “freedom to move around, freedom to associate, freedom to speak.”

“We’re not going to allow a handful of individuals to scare us,” Curry said. “Those rights run from pure joy and entertainment to expressing ourselves on the issues of the day.”

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Freedom of Speech: That commitment to freedom of expression extended to the hundreds of protesters who visited City Hall the night before.

This was notable, in the context of many on the right, ranging from Sen. Marco Rubio to Sean Hannity, painting protesters as “left-wing radicals” and the like.

“Free speech, man. That’s the beauty of our country — exercised right here in our city. People have the right to express themselves and their views. That’s how we operate in civilized democratic society,” Curry said.

“I don’t know how they organized. I don’t know how they got here. Regardless,” Curry said, “it’s free speech. I always encourage people to exercise their right to express themselves in a peaceful manner.”

Jeff Brandes, Jason Fischer team up to reform local pensions

For the second straight week, Rep. Jason Fischer and Sen. Jeff Brandes are teaming up on another ambitious pension reform bill.

Last week saw the two file bills in their respective chambers that would close the Florida Retirement System’s defined benefit plan to new cities.

That bill has gotten pushback already from Republicans in both chambers.

This week saw a bill, to be filed in both chambers Wednesday, that would reform local pensions.

Fischer’s House Bill 603 and Brandes’ Senate Bill 632 would put a check on the often optimistic rates of return on investments that create a rosier picture of solvency than actually exists in local pension plans.

Given the flux in investment markets, rates arrived at during boom times can be unachievable when markets flatten out. This can create an unfunded liability crisis, especially when compounded with a city (like Jacksonville most recently) not contributing enough to the plans to keep them solvent.

The Brandes/Fischer bills also create a new language: a “long range return rate.” The definition, used in the 2014 Society of Actuaries Report on public pension plans, is the rate of return to be met at least 50 percent of the time over three decades.

Starting in 2021, assumed rates of return that exceed that mark are prohibited, and public pension plan administrators will be compelled to lower their expected rate of return by 25 basis points a year until projections meet reality.

The gradualist approach is intended to put pension plans on a glide path toward sustainability.

“Many pension plans in Florida are dangerously underfunded, bringing into question whether they will be available to our police, firefighters, first responders, and public employees who rely on them for retirement,” stated Sen. Brandes in a news release from his office.

“This legislation will prevent pension plans from playing games with their funding formulas, and bring about fiscally prudent funding practices in these important programs,” Brandes added.

“We’ve made a promise to our teachers, first responders, and hardworking public servants that in exchange for their sacrifice we would help support them in retirement,” Rep. Fischer stated.

“For far too long faulty assumptions and pie in the sky numbers have put that promise at risk. This bill will put us on a path to fiscal responsibility by pegging the state retirement calculations to the real world,” Fischer added.

The Brandes/Fischer legislation would require those long range return rates to be calculated every five years.

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