Jax Archives - Page 3 of 312 - Florida Politics

John Rutherford recovering ‘very well’ from allergy to antibiotic

Congressman John Rutherford, the first-term Jacksonville Republican who had a medical emergency in Washington Wednesday, is “on his way to a full and swift recovery,” his chief of staff said.

Expectations are that Rutherford will be out of the hospital next week.

Kelly Simpson, Congressman Rutherford’s Chief of Staff, said, “Congressman Rutherford’s recovery continues to go very well.  He remains at a local hospital for rest, treatment, and observation.

“Doctors treating Mr. Rutherford believe that the acute digestive flare up that generated the discomfort he experienced was caused by a serious allergic reaction to an antibiotic that he was taking for a cold,” Simpson added, noting this is not a long-term health concern for the congressman.

“The doctors continue to treat his inflammation and expect him to be released early next week as the inflammation continues to subside,” Simpson added.

These reports are a vast improvement from the real health scare just days before.

The 64-year-old, elected in November, had collapsed in the House of Representatives, according to reports.

The former Jacksonville sheriff was then “wheeled out of the House chamber on a stretcher to a nearby elevator and taken to the hospital. He appeared to be receiving oxygen through a mask,” The Hill reported.

More details emerge on Jacksonville ‘central receiving center’ proposal for mental health

As we reported last week, the city of Jacksonville is working toward creating a “central receiving facility” for mental health issues.

The good news: the city has secured a $15 million grant from the state of Florida.

The bad news: the $7.5 million needed, as a local match has been slow in coming.

All told, the Mental Health Resource Center needs to find $2.385 million of local funding. Much of that will have to originate from the private sector; the city currently receives $810,000 from the city for outpatient services, so if the city were to provide the extra $2.385 million, that would result in a 300 percent increase in the MHRC budget year over year.

While that’s doable given the city’s strong budget year in 2016 — one which saw $11 million added to the city’s emergency reserve — stakeholders are proceeding as if private funds are the mechanism necessary to make this plan a reality.


FloridaPolitics.com reviewed a copy of January’s “executive summary” of the grant request from the city’s Mental Health Resource Center, and it painted a picture of dire need mixed with tremendous opportunity — if the city can get it together to match the funds.

Jacksonville’s problems are almost uniquely severe.

Florida is 49th in the nation in per capita mental health funding. And Northeast Florida is bringing up the rear, again, in a woefully underfunded state.

The results: delays in treatment, especially for underserved populations, that can be perilous.

Waiting a few weeks when dealing with acute mental issues, for example, can make them worse.

Those released or diverted from the jail, likewise, can often go without treatment — leading to repeat offenses.

To remedy these issues, a central receiving center is necessary, the MHRC asserts.


The funding would actually be used to create two centers: one at the MHRC North facility on W. 20th Street, and one at the South facility on Beach Blvd.

Services would include mental health and substance abuse screening and help, as well as assistance applying for government benefits, psychiatric evaluations, and medication management.

Staff would reach out to the mentally ill, including recently discharged inmates, to ensure they are getting the help they need.

The hope: that extra effort will prevent a need for psychiatric hospitalization, for those prone to episodic relapses.


The proposal outlines a phased-in schedule of services, beginning in March at the North location during business hours, then expanding hours and locations as local match funding materializes.

The locational choice is a pragmatic one: all of the current city funding, and all but $700,000 of the state funding, is allocated toward the North location.

Thus, the North location only needs $116,000 to ramp up, while the one on the Southside needs $2.27 million.

The need for two locations is dictated by the sprawling nature of the consolidated city itself.

The “long game” of the civil rights struggle looms over Jacksonville MLK breakfast

Friday saw Jacksonville’s stakeholders convene at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday breakfast.

The second of these breakfasts for Mayor Lenny Curry, his prepared remarks were focused on service.

However, the city is working through a number of active civil rights issues.

Among them: expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance to include LGBT people, and a bill moving through the city council related to funding a position to ensure equal opportunity in city employment.

Thus, a tension existed — as it so often does in Jacksonville — between abstract ideals and historical hagiography, and the realities of life in a diverse city with competing interests and narratives.

That tension was reflected in the program, which attempted to stay deliberately big picture and free of contemporary politics.

While the mayor and some speakers kept remarks anodyne and positive, invoking Dr. King in a totemic, symbolic way, other speakers honed in on more specific, hot-button concerns that were reminiscent of the specific calls for social justice he made before his assassination in 1968


The early parts of the program avoided, as is often the case, a direct address of current civil rights issues, staying on a service theme established by Curry’s letter in the program, quoting King saying “life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?”

The introduction from a local newscaster lauded Curry for bringing the “accountability that Jacksonville deserves” to the office, which was a curious syntactic choice from an anchorman.

Curry then took the mike.

“I’m so proud of my city this morning,” Curry said, of the “diverse” group of people assembled to honor a man who “did the right thing.”

Among other topics, the mayor discussed the city’s commitment to volunteerism, and pulling together, with a specific section about the recovery effort from Hurricane Matthew, “with hugs and love.”

“We are a resilient people, and we are a resilient city,” Curry said, before encouraging volunteerism with a “heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love.”

Curry then reprised a call from his inauguration: for the crowd to hold hands, chanting “One City, One Jacksonville.”

Curry then introduced Darnell Smith of the Jax Chamber.

Media wondered: would Smith discuss an issue he’s pushing right now, that being HRO expansion?

That wasn’t the case.

Smith, like Curry, said the event was “all about service. About loving one another, and giving our fellow brothers and sisters hope.”

Smith discussed King’s “many sacrifices,” reprising the mayor’s quote of King regarding “what are you doing for others.”


Though the early part of the program didn’t touch on current issues, keynote speaker Bertice Berry did allude to the linkage between the civil rights struggle for African-Americans and for LGBT people.

Berry noted that she had talked to a gay man, who had told her he had supported civil rights for African-Americans, in the hope they would support rights for him.

Berry called that the “long game.”

The “long game” of civil rights was revisited by a couple of subsequent speakers.

Jacksonville Urban League President Richard Danford urged the city to focus on remedying disparities, via taking a hard look at disparity studies, and the “allocation and distribution of city funds,” including contracts and employment for minorities.

These efforts, said Danford, would “reduce poverty and crime in this community … stir business development and create more jobs in communities of color.”

Danford also alluded to Councilman Garrett Dennis‘ “equal opportunity” bill, saying that the city’s independent authorities, such as JEA and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, “should reflect the diversity in the community.

The benediction was also rooted in contemporary issues in the city, with Rabbi Richard Shapiro calling for the government to “uphold laws against discrimination,” including for “transgender Americans.”

“The civil rights struggle did not end in the sixties. When minority groups voice discontent,” Shapiro said, “they’re not demanding special treatment.”

Media expected to be able to ask Mayor Curry questions about some of the more progressive statements from the mike; however, we were told that time didn’t permit such an inquiry.

City of Jacksonville to council woman’s business: pay up the $210K you owe us

A letter from the city of Jacksonville’s Office of Economic Development to the family business of Councilwoman Katrina Brown demanded repayment for economic incentive money that didn’t create jobs.

On Jan. 5, a Certified Letter was sent from OED to CoWealth, LLC, noting that the city received the “required annual surveys” for 2012 to 2015, in which the company was supposed to create jobs at a Northwest Jacksonville barbecue sauce plant.

However, said the city, no jobs were created.

“Therefore,” said the city, “the full balance of the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund grant, $210,549.99, must be repaid.”

OED wants payment in full within 60 days of the letter.

The alternative: setting up a payment schedule within 30 days.

Brown’s family businesses have had other issues as well, including delinquent sales tax remittances and delayed property tax payments.

The barbecue sauce plant, meanwhile, was raided last month by the FBI, state, and local agencies, though the exact reason for that raid is not known to media.

Bad press has plagued Brown’s familial business interests of late.

CoWealth LLC, which has been in the news for failing to fulfill job creation goals for a Westside Jacksonville BBQ sauce plant for which the company secured $590,000 in loans and grants from the city, finally paid its 2015 property taxes on December 30.

CoWealth also is in trouble with the Small Business Association.

The Florida Times-Union reported that “CoWealth received a $2.65 million loan from a Louisiana bank. That loan was backed by the Small Business Administration, whose Office of Inspector General was among the agencies that went to the Commonwealth Avenue building two weeks ago” for a multi-jurisdictional raid involving federal, state, and local authorities.

Brown’s family business enterprises seem to have struggled with revenue problems for a couple of years now.

Even during her successful city council campaign of 2015, delinquent property taxes became an issue.

Former Rep. Charles Van Zant and wife to face state ethics commission in January

A former Northeast Florida state legislator and his wife who failed in running to succeed him face state ethics commission hearings on Jan 27.

Former Rep. Charles Van Zant and his wife Katherine each face separate hearings covering the same material.

The ethics complaints against the former state representative and his wife involve failure to disclose ownership of a condo in Orange Park.

The income and co-ownership of the condo with Mrs. Van Zant was disclosed in an amended form in 2012, but was excised in 2013 through 2015.

Interestingly, one of the complainants in the Charles Van Zant case: former Republican Party of Florida chair Leslie Dougher.

Dougher and Mrs. Van Zant ran an aggressive race to replace Mr. Van Zant in Tallahassee; both lost in the GOP primary to Rep. Bobby Payne.

Dougher and another complainant, Chip Laibl, essentially filed the same complaint; the hearing will combine the two separately filed complaints into one.

Mr. Van Zant contends that his attorney and he thought the property in question was “conveyed” to a  property company in 2007.

Dougher’s complaint also references a disputed homestead exemption, which her campaign made an issue of down the stretch in the House District 19 GOP primary.

Dougher asserts that the Van Zants “fraudulently claimed homestead exemption in an effort to defraud the taxpayers of thousands of dollars.”

In Mr. Van Zant’s response to Dougher’s complaint, he notes that “her listing of the ‘Van Zant Family Tax Fraud Investigation’ was part of her campaign effort to embarrass us politically. There is and was never any such investigation.”

Northeast Florida lawmakers continue to advocate for F-35s in Jacksonville

Northeast Florida lawmakers continue to make their push for bringing F-35 jets to Jacksonville, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal.

The laudatory comments about the fighter jets, which would be housed at the National Guard hangar at the Jacksonville International Airport, were made in the Florida Senate’s Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee.

Chairwoman Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, declaimed that “I’m excited about the possibilities and I certainly want my pilots in planes that actually function and something doesn’t break down midway to where they are going,”

That last reference? To the aging F-15 jets currently in use.

The support for F-35 upgrades was bipartisan, with Clay County Republican Rob Bradley joining his Democratic colleague from Jacksonville in support.

“I think everybody has come to a real understanding of how important this would be to our area if we were to gain these assets,” Bradley, a Clay County Republican, said.

With worries about the BRAC process never far from the minds of military-minded Northeast Florida legislators, virtually all are in support of bringing the F-35’s to Jacksonville.

However, that federal decision is not imminent.

Jacksonville, fire union make conceptual progress in pension reform talks

On Wednesday morning, the city of Jacksonville enhanced its pension/benefits offer to the police union. Wednesday afternoon saw a similar conversation with the fire union.

Just as with the police union negotiations, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was on hand at the fire union.

The tone was more genial, with Curry and Wyse joking about some matters ahead of the negotiations, and with Curry saying he appreciated the “good faith” tone of negotiations during the discussion.

However, the parameters of the fire meeting were similar to that of the police meeting: the union resisted even the generous terms of the defined contribution proposal, saying that a 401K was never meant to replace pensions, and that such a proposal would run counter to the department’s “culture.”


Fire Union head Randy Wyse, concerned about recruitment and retention, noted that the cost of Florida Retirement System for new hires was comparable to the 401K proposal advanced at the police union meeting.

Palm Coast, Wyse said, has a 401K plan — the only other one in Florida.

Over the last nine years, that department has had 100 percent turnover.

“We just want the same plan everyone else is eligible for,” Wyse said.

Curry reiterated his concerns about losing “local control” via FRS, before going into his administration’s offer: a 20 percent raise over three years, a full restoration of the 8.4 percent DROP rate of return, and a 3 percent COLA.

“It’s a stretch,” said Curry, “but it’s the right thing to do.”

Curry termed this as “restoring what was taken away” via the 2015 accord.

As with the police defined contribution plan, the city contribution would be 25 percent per year of salary for new hires.

“Whether we have a defined contribution or defined benefit plan,” Curry said, “we’re going to have to work together.”

“Wherever we end,” Curry added, “I’m going to stand with public safety.”

CAO Sam Mousa noted that FRS lowered its rate of return from 7.65 to 7.6 percent recently, and that’s “some of the risk” assumed in the FRS plan.

“There’s nothing sacred about the FRS. There are ups, and there are downs,” Mousa said.

Fire union representatives predicted that, with a defined contribution plan, turnover would be likely to happen here with the new hires after about the five year mark, just as it has happened in Palm Coast.

Curry noted that the defined contribution plan will be “very attractive” to new hires, and current employees will be happy with the pay raises.

“Whether it’s DC or DB,” Curry said, the goal is to retain people.

“The plan I put on the table, in good faith I believe, will attract and retain people,” Curry added.

“People aren’t leaving the department right now because of DC,” Curry said, adding that the proposal restores the original pension parameters for current employees.

Randy Wyse of the fire union noted that “the culture of our department is not 401K … our culture doesn’t lead well to your plan … puts citizens and existing fire fighters at great risk.”

Curry stood his ground, pointing out the benefit of the raises, and lauding the sacrifices made by public safety workers.

“While I’m not embedded in that culture, I appreciate it at a distance,” Curry said.

And with that, he departed.


Yet negotiations continued.

The city’s written proposal was presented, with the wage increases in 2017 and 2018 being 6.5 percent, and 2019 being 7 percent, along with the “one-time lump sum consideration” of 3 percent of salary upon agreeing to the deal.

The city, as it did with the police union, vowed to restore all existing employee plans to levels preceding the 2015 pension deal.

The proposal would “successfully dissolve the 2015 Retirement Reform Agreement,” said the written proposal.

“However the chapter funds were used before,” Mousa said, “if we void it completely. Whatever was in place before that would be what we use.”

Mousa reiterated the city’s intent to bargain in good faith, also adding that his goal was to have something in place by March,

“We’re concerned,” Mousa said, “that we’re stuck and going to miss the window.”

Mousa added that balancing the budget might not be any easier given the raises proposed.

“As the mayor said this morning, we’re putting a very good faith [effort] … in this stretch proposal,” Mousa said.


Despite the good faith voiced, there are still deep concerns on the union side, regarding the material change proposed in these plans of long standing.

“We’ll be two years out of contract by October, 2017,” Wyse said, noting that the police union was out of contract for a year longer.

Meanwhile, preliminary discussions were held about material changes to the 2015 pension deal, with the city asking for a written proposal from the fire union about what should be included from that deal in a potential new deal.

After the meeting, reporters talked to Randy Wyse, who seemed positive about what transpired.

“Questions were answered,” Wyse said, adding that in the case of a 401K, “I never said it wasn’t an option” for new hires.

“It’s all on the table,” Wyse added.

While Wyse still believes that FRS is best for “recruitment and retention,” Wednesday’s meeting suggests that there may be room for a workable compromise between the city and the fire union, though the exact parameters are unclear at this point.

Lenny Curry sweetens pension offer to Jacksonville police, gives 30 days to respond

The city of Jacksonville and its police union resumed collective bargaining for the first time since November on Tuesday, with the sides starting far apart.

The daylight between labor and management was significant as last year closed.

There’s less daylight after the Wednesday session. The city made an improved offer, one which offers a bigger city match on the defined contribution deal for new hires and gives current employees more money and restored benefits.

But there’s a catch: the city gave the police union 30 days to accept it, or the offer is dead.

Fire union negotiations are slated for later this afternoon; a reasonable expectation is that similar terms will be offered.


To move negotiations into a different posture, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was in attendance with opening remarks at a meeting that saw the parking lot of the Fraternal Order of Police building full even half an hour before the 10 a.m. negotiating session commenced.

Curry offered opening remarks; his chief lieutenants, CFO Mike Weinstein and CAO Sam Mousa, stayed behind, along with the general counsel, Jason Gabriel.

In those opening remarks, Curry outlined a considerably enhanced package of defined contribution benefits for new hires, with a city match of 25 percent approaching the FRS mandated contribution of 29 percent.

The plan would be vested in five years for new hires.


Police union head Steve Zona noted that the union worked with the mayor “in the trenches” to sell the pension reform referendum option, with Zona saying the union thought the mayor understood that public safety merited compensation.

“All the time, the Florida Retirement System was on the table,” Zona said, before showing a video with Curry saying “I’m going to honor the agreements we have” and that 401K plans for police forces in the state “would not work for officers.”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that 401Ks will not work,” Curry said in the video from the 2015 campaign endorsement process regarding current employees.

A second video saw Curry say “if you want to attract the best, you have to be competitive” and that “pension plans” are necessary.

“The public doesn’t understand what I’ve said because a mayor has never said it,” Curry said in the video, vowing to “try to educate in meetings and conversations.”

Zona said, then, “you said you’d be willing to stand alone and educate the public, and that hasn’t been done.”

“Put FRS on the table,” Zona said, “and let’s get the deal done.”

Zona then cited Florida Politics quoting the mayor as saying a 401k plan would “set the stage” for 401K discussions beyond Jacksonville.

Curry then offered remarks, noting investments in human and physical capital in his first two budgets.

Then Curry floated a new offer: a 3 percent bonus, a 20 percent pay hike in three years, and full restoration of all benefits taken away from officers in 2015, including an 8.4 percent “return on DROP guaranteed” and a 3 percent COLA.

Curry then noted that his comments in 2015 were intended to address the issues for current officers, not new hires.

“A defined contribution plan that looks like nothing anyone has ever seen for new hires,” Curry said, with a 25 percent city investment from day 1, and a fully vested plan within five years.

That plan would have the same disability and death benefit that the current plan has.

“This is a rich plan that will attract and retain people.”

“Since I’ve been in office,” Curry said, “I’ve put my money where my mouth is.”

Zona endorsed the wage proposal and the benefit restoration pitch, saying though that the “new hires” is a different matter.

“When it’s you mayor, or another mayor attacking the benefits of new hires, you watch the attrition rates go through the roof,” Zona said.

Curry noted that statute requires collective bargaining every three years, and that even a defined benefit plan has attendant risk.

“This is not a 401k as would be defined in the private sector,” Curry reiterated of his plan. “It is rich. It will work.”

Curry noted that FRS would be even more expensive, with a 29 percent city match, and a lack of local control.

“I like local control,” Curry said to media after he left the room for a gaggle.

Notable: Curry’s plan, with restoration of pre-2015 benefits for current employees, would reverse a great deal of the 2015 pension reform.

Nine percent of the FRS hit, Mousa said later, was unfunded liability.

“We’re far exceeding FRS,” Mousa said.


Negotiations resumed shortly before 11 a.m.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel, when asked about the 2015 deal, cautioned that it wasn’t a seven-year deal.

“There was provision for a waiver of unilaterally altering benefits for seven years,” Gabriel said, but that didn’t supersede state statute requiring terms not exceeding three years.

“The seven years is something that we need to be careful when we discuss that,” Gabriel said. “The collective bargaining agreement needs to be for a term of three years.”

Police negotiators sought a 20 year guarantee for men and women on the current force.


The city presented written proposals for police and corrections, and for judicial officers and bailiffs.

The police proposal was the 3 percent lump sum hike and the 20 percent raise phased in over three years, with DROP return guaranteed at 8.4 percent and a 3 percent COLA bump.

Judicial officers and bailiffs got the same 3 percent lump sum bump, and a 14 percent pay raise phased in over three years for judicial officers, and a 12 percent hike for bailiffs.

All new employee groups would have fully-vested defined contribution plans, via a 25 percent city contribution.

The proposal would supersede all previous agreements, a city negotiator said.


Zona noted that a provision of the deal is that, if the sales surtax is overturned, the city won’t have the money to deliver.

CFO Weinstein noted that “if one piece of the puzzle falls out, we have to revisit” the pension deal.

The surtax is needed to fund the plan; the city sees it as “highly unlikely” that the surtax would be overturned.

The impact would be a re-opening of the wage discussions.

Zona saw the escape clause as an “out for the city,” and the couple of hundred officers in the crowd stirred as the city again tried to reiterate its position.

 “If it’s that unlikely it’s going to occur,” Zona said, the city needs to “shoulder risk” and insert a clause guaranteeing the city commitment to officers for 20 years.

CAO Mousa noted that the city has to redo actuarial studies, among other “significant work,” before Oct. 1 to “take advantage of the process” and access the revenue stream.

“If there are any delays that keep us from getting to council in time, we’ll have to wait a whole another year,” Mousa said, noting that legislation needs to pass.

Zona noted that a 30 day time frame may not be tantamount to “bargaining in good faith.”

“That may be some sort of violation of collective bargaining,” Zona noted.

Mousa pushed back, saying the union knows “exactly what the numbers are and where they lay.”


After another caucus, Mousa reiterated the city position: “nothing other than wages” would be required to be re-negotiated if the sales tax fell through.

“It’s our problem to afford it,” Mousa said,

 The city again stressed the urgency of meeting the thirty day time frame.

Zona contended that the cost of the proposed plan is very close to that of FRS, especially with a Social Security contribution added.

“We wouldn’t have made an offer today,” Mousa said, “if we couldn’t afford it … if it wasn’t fair and reasonable … to the taxpayers.”


Zona produced another video toward the end of the meeting, where Curry said the media “demonized” the police union as “fat cats.”

Then another video, where Curry said Mayor Brown “has failed to deal with the pension in a serious way.”

Curry, in the video, said that he wouldn’t “tolerate” police being attacked in the press.

“We showed the videos for a reason … our members haven’t seen those videos. The public hasn’t seen those videos,” Zona said.

“Everybody needed to see those videos so people would understand why we’re taking the position we’re taking. We’re told one thing by the mayor,” Zona said, yet “information was not shared with us,” even as the union helped to sell the pension reform referendum of 2016.

“Where’s the data? What’s the reasoning to change your mind?”

Zona’s question was rhetorical.

But the conflict wasn’t.

For his part, Mousa said “it’s going to take a lot more than these videos to embarrass the mayor.”

Mousa reiterated the “time and effort” put in the mayor’s plan, adding that more formal actuarial studies are needed to come up with a shared set of assumptions.

“If we don’t come to an agreement, we won’t have final actuaries,” Mousa added.

Both sides want to “get out of the risk business,” Zona said.

But the problem isn’t the destination, but the conveyance.

HRO reboot dominates Jacksonville City Council meeting

After an agenda full of bills that met little opposition in committees, the Jacksonville City Council turned its attention Tuesday evening to a familiar question: the HRO, which was up on first read with a planned vote on Valentine’s Day.

For the third time in five years, Jacksonville legislators heard pros and cons of expanding Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include employment, housing, and public accommodations protections for the city’s LGBT community.

For council regulars, there was a feeling of familiarity: many of those in attendance were the same people making the same points they had in previous years.

The stickers were the same.

The opponents wore “protect first liberties” stickers, as they had previously; the proponents wore Jacksonville Coalition for Equality stickers.

The energy in the air: at once nervous and well-worn.

The turnout: roughly 2 to 1 in favor of HRO expansion.

A measure of the passion: even with five hours to go in the meeting, speakers were allowed just two minutes and fifteen seconds each, to get over 100 people in before the hard stop at midnight.

As before, the arguments were impassioned on both sides.

Early in the program, a transgender woman noted that she and her peers were deprived of “life and human rights,” noting that “being GLBT isn’t a matter of choice” and not a denotation of criminality.

An opponent — an elderly man with a combover and a dated suit — countered with stories of people on the west coast whose businesses were “bankrupted for their consciences.”

Locally, he said that proponents “were collaborators of bullies,” and appeasers of “extortionists.”

Proponents and opponents alike rooted their positions in liberty, with one gentleman saying in opposition that “deplorables make up a large part of your base” and “values voters” are keeping track of the votes of the 12 Republicans on the city council on this issue.

The rhetoric got heated 20 minutes in, with an opponent saying the bill was about “special privileges to a deviant group,” with duped council members “deviously holding the door open … to destruction of our society.”

This re-established a theme from previous considerations of the measure: proponents made plaintive pleas for legislation, making the moral cast against permissible discrimination; opponents painted the bill in lurid tones, casting aspersions on supporters of the measure.

The opponents tended to be more quotable.

Christian right activist Raymond Johnson soon thereafter claimed HRO passage was a public safety issue due to the high incidence of HIV/AIDS in the LGBT community, renaming the bill a “homosexual superiority ordinance.”

Another opponent discussed sexual assault, and the prospect of a “high school football player feeling feminine and taking a shower in the girls’ locker room,” indulging in “perverted pleasures.”

An impassioned gentleman noted that if his three year old son married a man, his blood line would cease to exist.

Opponents continued to press the case, maintaining that expanding the law would infringe on the consciences of opponents, leading to potential legal exposure for not complying with the legislation.

As well, questions were raised as to whether or not member businesses of the Chamber of Commerce, which supports HRO expansion, actually support HRO expansion.

Proponents, meanwhile, discussed the difficulties experienced by those outside binary gender constructs, especially relative to public accommodations, among other issues.

They also depicted the cost of a lack of legislation as being, in part, a loss of the city’s best and brightest to other cities, where the issue of LGBT rights had been resolved years or decades prior.

Darnell Smith of the Jacksonville Chamber brought discussion back to the bill itself, saying that it was a bill of collaboration, with carved out protections for religious institutions and small businesses.

Smith’s comments, unlike many on either side, came back to the substance of the bill, updating code to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Council President Lori Boyer then put a bow on the whole thing, talking about what a great city Jacksonville is, and how during this period of comment, it was established that “people on both sides are passionate, and everyone was respectful of each other.”

That much is debatable.

Not debatable: HRO will drive public comment through February 14, when it will receive a floor vote.

While there was no equivalent to Roy Bay or Kenneth Adkins this time out, it’s a long time until Valentine’s Day.

Al Lawson appointed to Agriculture committee

United States Rep. Al Lawson announced Tuesday his appointment to the Agriculture Committee, a key assignment for his largely rural North Florida district.

“Agriculture is a more than $120 billion industry in Florida and one of the strongest pillars of our state’s economy supporting more than 2 million jobs,” said Lawson.  “I am pleased to serve on this committee, this is an exciting time for American agriculture, and particularly Florida agriculture.  I look forward to working with the committee on urban agriculture and food desert issues in the inner cities of the 5th Congressional District, as well as working on some of the rural development and crop issues facing our rural farmers.”

For Lawson, whose biggest outreach issue during the 2016 campaign was to Jacksonville, the Ag appointment allows him to make inroads into solving issues seen in the Jacksonville part of his district — specifically, food deserts in the Urban Core and Northwest Jacksonville.

Lawson, who already has been appointed regional whip by House whip Steny Hoyer, is establishing himself as a candidate for re-election who will have an easier path in 2018 than he did in 2016, when he dismantled the Corrine Brown machine in the Democratic primary.

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