Jax Archives - Page 6 of 322 - Florida Politics

After heated debate, ‘Equal Opportunity’ bill heads to full Jacksonville City Council

A bill to attempt to ensure Jacksonville city government offers equal employment opportunity on racial grounds passed the city council’s Finance Committee Wednesday.

But passage did not come without chippy discussion on the subject, including a description of the bill as a “race hunt” by one councilman.

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Ordinance 2017-16 calls for the following: annual reporting to the Mayor and City Council on the progress and state of the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Program; budgetary line-item for the position of Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Assistant Director; and an “annual review” of “adherence and commitment” to the ordinance by the CEO’s of the city’s independent authorities.

The bill notes that the position of assistant director of the equal opportunity program has been vacant for a long time for budget reasons, which occludes the council from knowing exactly how entities like JEA and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority address these issues.

That assistant director, were the position funded, could ensure that demographic criteria isn’t the reason for hiring, firing, promotion, or lack thereof.

The bill, a priority of bill sponsor Garrett Dennis, passed by a 6 to 1 margin.

In opposition: Matt Schellenberg, who asserted that the proposed legislation is “discriminatory on its basis – what you’re dealing with is race and gender.”

Even supporters of the bill had issue with the mechanics, with Councilman Bill Gulliford suggesting the bill have a sunset provision after three years, to ensure council oversight over the “bureaucracy” being created.

Dennis contends that the bill simply restores funding to a position enacted in a previous ordinance.

Not every supporter was so hesitant, however.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown urged Dennis to “give yourself a round of applause” for filing this bill.

The full city council votes on this measure Feb. 14.

Florida Times-Union writer featured on Morris Communications right-wing website

Morris Communications, the parent company of the Florida Times-Union and the St. Augustine Record, launched a right-wing website recently.

(Note: the headline is not redundant, so save your jokes.)

The company, which created a kerfuffle last year by endorsing Donald Trump as an “agent of change” in the T-U and other corporate properties, has doubled down on its position with the launch of Crossroads for America.

The website does not appear to be affiliated with Karl Rove‘s PAC, American Crossroads.

However, the sentiments contained within Crossroads for America, a look at “government at the crossroads” and “challenges in today’s democracy,” would likely be endorsed by George W. Bush‘s former strategist.

A few of the articles up on the site on Wednesday morning were written by Mike Clark, the editorial page editor of the T-U, including the one promoted Tuesday evening by the local Jacksonville paper.

On the site, Clark takes issue with the national debt, using muscular language like “We know what needs to be done. Now we need leaders to take action.”

What “needs to be done,” asserts Clark: cutting entitlement programs.

“That is where President Donald Trump comes in. He is bold, he isn’t worried about political correctness and he certainly isn’t playing the Washington spin game,” Clark asserts.

In “Obamacare Will Not Cure Nation’s Ills,” Clark takes his scalpel to the Affordable Care Act.

Happily, the House of Representatives has the palliative care for which America clamors, Clark writes.

“There are a variety of good Republican plans in the mix such as the Better Way plan from Rep. Paul Ryan or the recently released plan from the Republican Study Group,” the T-U editorialist asserts.

“Here is what Americans can expect from the Republican president and Congress: More choices. Less government control. Access favored over guarantees. More individual responsibility. More simplicity, less complexity,” Clark contends.

Clark avoids El Presidente’s campaign call to build a wall and let Mexico pay for it (the check is in the mail!) in his essay solving the problems regarding illegal immigration.

However, the editorialist does find time to cite anti-immigration advocate Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and not the Florida State soccer coach, below the virtual fold.

Krikorian, when he Skyped in as a Florida House committee witness in Tallahassee recently, occasioned a walkout by the Democrats on hand.

House Majority Leader Janet Cruz called Krikorian a “white nationalist,” reported our own Mitch Perry, who spotlighted one of Krikorian’s provocative positions (“Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough”) in the piece.

Jacksonville residents made a lot of noise about cancelling newspaper subscriptions in the wake of the Times-Union endorsement of Trump (a position not shared on the news side).

Frank Denton, in his editorial role, punted on accountability for that endorsement, saying it’s a corporate position.

And it looks like corporate has doubled down on that pro-Trump stance, and will continue to as long as the Morris family owns newspapers.

Corrine Brown co-defendant sets ‘change of plea’ hearing for Wednesday

The twists and turns of the trial of Corrine Brown and her former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, continue even after she’s become a historical footnote in Washington, D.C.

The latest sudden development: a “change of plea” hearing that Simmons scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Simmons had previously attempted to sever his case from that of his former boss, but within days of filing a motion to that effect in December, rescinded that motion.

Speculation has run rampant in the media as to when one of the co-defendants would finally separate from the other.

It appears that Wednesday’s hearing in Jacksonville will tell the tale.

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The congresswoman from Florida’s 5th Congressional District, along with Chief of Staff Elias Simmons, face a combined 24 charges, enumerated in a 46-page indictment related to the One Door for Education scheme.

The charity, which collected $800,000 from some of Jacksonville’s most prominent politicians and public figures, disbursed less than $2,000 of that sum.

The balance of the money, prosecutors assert, was purloined for personal purposes, ranging from walking around money to skyboxes at Beyonce concerts.

Brown faces a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all counts are found valid.

For Simmons, it would be as many as 355 years and $4.75 million, if guilty of all counts.

The estimated restitution for Brown would be $833,000 — plus $63,000 in tax — roughly $897,000. For Simmons, the number would be over $1.2 million.

Will Wednesday’s hearing change the calculations for both?

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Brown’s inner circle, predictably, has become increasingly separated from her.

At the indictment in 2016, the court pronounced that neither of the co-defendants could talk, outside of the presence of counsel, to Carla Wiley or Von Alexander.

Wiley ran the One Door for Education charity.

Alexander worked for Brown, while also working for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, creating a conflict of interest.

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Simmons’ plea could set into motion events that would lead to Brown’s plea.

Both co-defendants may be encouraged by the relatively light sentence rendered to Reggie Fullwood, a former state legislator who pleaded out last year on a count of wire fraud and a count of failure to file a federal tax return.

Fullwood’s sentence, rendered today: three years of house arrest, and just over $100,000 in restitution.

 

HRO clears second Jacksonville City Council committee

The Rules Committee of the Jacksonville City Council was the second committee in two days to approve expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.

The measure would extend protections in housing, public accommodations, and employment on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

The Rules meeting saw two co-sponsors of the HRO expansion bill, Tommy Hazouri and Jim Love, on the committee.

The bill was expected to come out of the committee favorably.

And it did, with a 6-1 vote … even though one social conservative monopolized most of the discussion time with an impassioned discourse on semantics.

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Chairman Garrett Dennis kicked off deliberations with some interesting comments, noting that council members are just like the people in the audience (possibly a libelous statement).

“If anyone cannot control their emotions, before or after this meeting, please exit the chambers,” Dennis said.

Councilman Danny Becton, an expected opponent of the bill, noted that as a business owner, he is an “asset to this council” regarding his “personal decision making” and his commitment to “practicality.”

“I have not met one person this year who would tell me what problems this ordinance would solve regarding discrimination against the LGBT community,” Becton said, describing the ordinance as “not doing very much besides make us look good.”

Becton called up the director of the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, who said the bill would offer opportunities for redress to people on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Becton posited that, as an at-will employment state, employers had the right to fire employees, wondering why a law against workplace discrimination would be relevant in that context.

“Absent of some not very intelligent person stating their discrimination verbiage,” Becton surmised it would be tough for someone to demonstrate that discrimination was cause of dismissal.

Becton then speculated that an ordinance like this would lead to “silent discrimination.”

A representative of the office of general counsel, when asked by Becton if someone could get locked up for this, was told this was a civil matter.

Becton was undeterred, describing the “hammer of enforcement” despite the attorney explaining the limitations of municipal code to him.

Becton, not noted for civil libertarian tendencies, advanced the dread specter of the “police state” toward the close of his initial remarks.

In a Gullifordian touch, Becton also advanced the specter of “unintended consequences” for small businesses, speculating that one offense against this expanded ordinance could mean bankruptcy.

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Council VP John Crescimbeni, who supported the bill in Monday’s committee, noted this bill just adds two protected classes to an extant ordinance.

“I have a hard time reaching the same conclusion you do,” Crescimbeni said to Becton, noting his concerns about special penalties on SOGI protections were unfounded given that they haven’t been an issue in other jurisdictions where LGBT protections are law.

Crescimbeni than proposed an amendment defining “religious organization” and “religious corporation,” two exempt classes from some parts of the ordinance, to add “clarity” to that section.

After a spirited and circuitous semantic discussion, the likes of which have not seen since the council debated the legality of backing a car into one’s own driveway, Crescimbeni clarified his intent as trying to “help define” these terms in context of the bill.

The amendment failed.

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Becton continued haranguing representatives from the office of general counsel, asking about the prospect of imprisonment.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel noted that a civil code infraction, to the best of his knowledge, has not led to imprisonment.

Becton then asked for definitions of phrases like gender expression; Gabriel, at one point, referred the councilman to a dictionary.

“I’m a private business owner. I’m trying to follow the rules,” Becton said, “but I don’t even know what the rules are.”

Discussion — more of a monologue — continued, before Becton suggested a “referendum,” saying that the preponderance of pro-HRO expansion emails was not reflective of popular sentiments.

“This is a bad piece of legislation, and it will hurt the private sector,” Becton concluded.

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Councilman Hazouri noted the amount of time devoted to Becton’s harangue as perhaps being the wrong move.

Then Hazouri noted that “with all of the piling on we’ve heard, there are only three things it does. It extends the present law that everyone enjoys … the same rights for housing, employment, and public accommodations.”

Hazouri pointed out the carveout exemptions, adding that “the time is really now.”

“If you wanted to go to another city and you’re starting a business … all the major cities have similar anti-discrimination legislation,” Hazouri added.

Reggie Fullwood gets time served, house arrest for wire fraud charges

The narrative last April when 14 federal counts of wire fraud and income tax evasion hit former Rep. Reggie Fullwood was overheated to the point of frothing.

Of course, he faced 204 years in prison then — if he had been found guilty of all charges related to using $60,000 of campaign funds for personal expenses.

As the pretrial motions and hearings progressed, Fullwood’s attorney attempted to chip away at the charges against the charismatic Jacksonville Democrat.

Fullwood pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion last year, and it turned out that, rather than facing two centuries in prison, his sentence would be — at most — in the 12 to 21 month range.

His defense team argued for further leniency: a non-custodial sentence, which would allow Fullwood to resume a useful, even prominent public life derailed by his malfeasance.

The question at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing: would Judge Henry Lee Adams buy the argument?

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Short answer: yes.

For his two counts to which Fullwood pleaded guilty, he got time served, plus three years of supervised release for the wire fraud count, and one year for failure to file: those sentences will be served concurrently.

Also rendered, 180 days of house arrest. But even there, a caveat: Fullwood can leave the house for work, however.

This sentence begins Mar. 7.

In addition, Fullwood is responsible for $60,500 in forfeiture, and an additional $42,500 in IRS penalties.

A substance abuse program, mental health treatment, and a monitoring device are also required.

Notable: the prosecution objected to the variance from sentence guidelines.

But given what happened in the courtroom Tuesday, leniency was understandable.

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Fullwood’s attorney argued, as has been the case through the former politician’s defense, that Fullwood was diverting funds for “personal use,” not for kickbacks.

The contention was also that the real violation was a misdemeanor: a violation of Florida election law. The case was made federal solely because of the bank wire transfer being routed interstate.

The prosecution contended that, since Fullwood was his own treasurer, he had to certify that he understood Florida election law, which is stringent in this regard compared to other states.

The prosecution contended that Fullwood falsifying invoices for campaign work was further evidence of a scheme to defraud.

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Fullwood had a number of witnesses, including State Sen. Perry Thurston.

Thurston and Fullwood were both part of the Democratic leadership in the Florida House.

Thurston described his fallen colleague as an “advocate” for the disadvantaged.

Among other witnesses: Fullwood’s own father-in-law. Though Fullwood’s marriage has been wrecked by the legal morass, the judge found it remarkable that Fullwood’s father-in-law would speak on his behalf.

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The prosecution asked for a sentence at the low end of guidelines, noting Fullwood’s otherwise laudable character, and the frustration of his career path in politics. However, the pattern of misappropriation of funds, coupled with Fullwood not having filed a federal tax return since 2005, were concerns.

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The judge considered a harsher sentence, under the aegis of sending a message to those who might participate in Fullwoodian fraud schemes; however, Judge Adams noted that Fullwood had “suffered tremendously.”

That sentence was mitigated by Fullwood himself, who was in tears when he first took the stand.

After composing himself, Fullwood thanked friends, family, and his lawyers.

“I never had malice,” Fullwood said, or an intent to “scheme.”

The “toughest part” of the situation, Fullwood said, was “having to explain to an 8 or 9 year old why Daddy is in the news.”

Another tough part: the end of his marriage.

This process, Fullwood said, “destroyed that.”

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It’s the end of a political career — at least for now — for Fullwood.

However, what was clear is that Fullwood will continue to serve his community in ways outside elected office, including volunteering and mentorship.

Tracie Davis files trio of appropriations bills in Florida House

On Monday, Rep. Tracie Davis filed a trio of appropriations bills in the Florida House, all of which relate to the Jacksonville Democrat’s district.

Davis, who took over the House District 13 seat from Reggie Fullwood, filed the following.

HB 2439 requests $500,000 for the J.P. Small Park Museum.

J.P. Small Park, when it was known as Durkee Field, hosted some of the most renowned baseball players in American history during its days as a home stadium in the Negro League, when the Jacksonville Red Caps called the Durkeeville landmark home.

The stadium was restored in the 1980s, and a small museum was built more recently.

HB 2441 requests $450,000 for the Jacksonville Trout/Moncrief Stormwater Management Facilities.

Stormwater management funding, while not a thrilling topic, is one that the city of Jacksonville needs help from the state to fully fund, given the twin burdens of deferred maintenance and the city’s unfunded pension liability, currently approaching the $3 billion mark.

HB 2443 requests $800,000 for the Police Athletic-Activities Leagues Youth Directors & Life After High School Programs.

These programs help potentially at-risk youth stay on the right side of the law with mentorship.

To use a baseball metaphor, Davis isn’t swinging for the fences with these asks. Rather, the freshman legislator is swinging for achievable base hits.

Jacksonville police union advances individual pension contract proposal

On Monday, the city of Jacksonville and the local Fraternal Order of Police continued its collective bargaining efforts, in a five-hour-plus afternoon session that spilled over into the  evening.

Going into the session, the main sticking point was a small but meaningful disagreement on raises for current employees, and whether or not new hires would go into a city defined contribution plan with a 25 percent match or into the FRS’ defined benefit plan.

Complicating the process: Sheriff Mike Williams, who had previously said he wanted a “competitive” package, told us last week that the deal on the table from the city was solid and merited real consideration.

Meanwhile — for those interested in the city’s offer, set to expire before Valentine’s Day — time was of the essence.

But what would Monday hold?

Ultimately, some concessions on issues, detailed below.

And the police union advanced a new proposal: the individual pension contract.

This concept, a departure from the FRS proposal, would require the city to set pension contracts with all union members, and would protect them from the city’s historic penchant for unilaterally changing terms.

That’s the short version; the long form version is below.

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The meeting started with the city side responding to questions and proposals from the union, including on contribution levels, ability to withdraw from the plan, whether the council can vote to approve the deal before the union does, and the impact of a successful legal challenge in the 4th Judicial Circuit against the pension tax referendum in 2016.

CAO Sam Mousa noted that the city’s current offer had to be accepted by Feb. 11, and otherwise is retracted.

$54,000 is the maximum contribution allowable to the plan. Meanwhile, for both police and corrections workers, there are allowable markers for withdrawals from the plan.

For police, as soon as 50 years old under certain conditions, such as 20 years of service; for corrections, 55 years old, under certain conditions, such as 25 years of service.

Mousa also noted, regarding body cameras, that the matter is “not an appropriate subject for collective bargaining,” given the fact that the JSO is developing a policy with union input.

Mousa rejected the police union’s proposal for pay raises of 8 percent for three straight years, while agreeing that all people under the current plan would have the same benefits.

And among other rejections, the union’s desire to have all new hires in FRS’ defined benefit plan.

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Mousa then presented revised proposals from the city.

Among them: a clarification that a 3 percent COLA would apply to survivor benefits.

Mousa also reiterated the seven year term of collective bargaining he had proposed previously, noting that was renewable at three, six, and seven years.

CFO Mike Weinstein, meanwhile, struck at the heart of the 2015 agreement with his comments that the city would no longer pay the accelerated payment schedule that agreement mandated, once a new plan is in place.

The reasoning: that plan was a “placeholder” until a “sustainable funding source” was located.

All chapter funds would revert to the custody of the police and fire pension fund.

Meanwhile, those who have DROP’d and retired since 2015 would be “made whole, as if they had never left the plan.”

Mousa also noted that the defined contribution plans for new hires would have a third party manager, and that all bargaining agreements must be approved by the city council.

As well, the baseline contribution for the long-term annuity proposed last time these parties met would be 10 percent.

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Spoiler alert: the union didn’t agree to these terms out of hand.

The union pushed back on the city’s contention that body cameras are not a mandatory subject of collective bargaining; the city contended that cameras are a “management right,” and that these wouldn’t be bargained during this session.

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not going to talk about it,” Michael Mattimore, the city’s chief negotiator, said.

“Right now, we have no interest in bargaining … but we’re going to make a commitment to bargaining in the future,” Mattimore said.

“We all know the sheriff wants these cameras out in April,” FOP Head Steve Zona said.

Zona’s offer was shot down by Mousa, in terms of collectively bargaining on cameras “today.”

Regarding chapter funds, the union wanted 14 percent of them allocated to a share plan. The accounts, said Zona, potentially contain $90 million currently.

Weinstein suggested that a set date was needed for this, and that should be the date of implementation.

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Zona, two hours into the meeting, noted that Mayor Lenny Curry messages around the theme of “promises made, promises kept.”

Curry hit every roll call of officers recently, and told the force (per First VP Randy Reeves) that “if I could find a legal way to secure your benefits today, I would sign it today.”

Mousa noted that he wasn’t at these roll calls.

When asked if the mayor could be called, Mousa said “we’d rather just look at your proposal, Steve.”

“Makes no damn difference what the mayor said or didn’t say. Makes no difference. Let’s see your proposal,” Mousa said.

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From there, the FOP proposal: defined contribution retirement plans.

While these would be defined contribution, they would not be changeable, and would have an

Voluntary contracts with employees for pensions, which are used in Tampa and Miami Beach, and do not allow for unilateral change of terms.

The vesting schedule was changed, to be 100 percent after three years, with half the vesting in the first year.

The city would also offer meetings between the officers and financial advisers, during the first year of training, and at 10 and 20 year intervals.

Meanwhile, the union would accept the current wage proposal on the table, adding up to 20 percent over three years, with a three percent lump sum.

Mousa questioned the legality of these contracts, relative to the city of Jacksonville.

The research would take time. And legal guidance from the FOP’s attorney.

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The accelerated vesting schedule was a sticking point for Mousa.

“You were worried that a DC plan would have employees take the money and leave. This seems contrary to what you’re saying,” Mousa said.

Mousa then agreed to the vesting schedule, after hearing Zona say that “positions change.”

“This has been in practice for decades,” Zona said, referring to Tampa and Miami Beach, who have these plans.

Mousa’s stated concern: the legality of the plan.

“Until we have ample opportunity to review this proposal,” Mousa said, “this is not on the table today.”

“You have a three year window,” Mousa added, to renegotiate the plan after accepting the city’s terms.

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 The union attorney produced a number of cases that spoke to the legality of these individual pension contracts.

The model the union seeks: a simple, one-page contract, that would tie benefits in for the term of employment.

Mousa bristled against this line of discussion, including fixed benefits for the entire term of employment.

Zona, meanwhile, said “we came here today to get a deal done.”

“We’re the only union in the city with employees in all three funds. Take the time to vet [the deal],” Zona said.

Mousa noted that the city had provided a “decent wage proposal.”

“Whether we make a deal or not, life goes on. We’re going to make our budget. Life is good,” Mousa said.

“The mayor has proposed to make your benefits whole. Your members deserve a wage increase,” Mousa added, noting that it is in the union’s interest not to let this opportunity “slip by.”

General Counsel Jason Gabriel noted that these plans may not fit Jacksonville.

And “even if it were legal, it might be a terrible idea. Last time we had a 30 year contract, it was thrown out by a judge.”

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Corrections officers, and their plight, were also discussed.

There are severe worries about attrition, and other counties are paying their corrections officers more.

The proposed solution: salary parity, to resolve what the union sees as a 20 year problem, with correctional salaries lagging behind patrol.

The disparity can be as much as 36 percent.

To this end, “baby steps” on a “pathway to parity” were proposed.

Among them: a 25 percent raise, phased in over three years.

The city’s offer would cost the city $12.7 million more; the FOP counteroffer would be $2.765 more than the city’s, approaching $15.5 million.

Mousa’s take: to reopen the discussion in the first year of a new agreement.

“We acknowledge the problem. And we’re going to have to fix it,” Mousa said, with a “new compensation package that we would present to corrections.”

The time frame for that: after Oct. 1, 2017, when the new budget will have gone into effect.

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The union advanced another proposal: extending the term of the agreement to 10 years, contingent on an average 2 percent increase in the sales tax collections, and satisfying the “gross amount” of the assumed rate of return.

Zona also noted the city’s tendency to roll back its millage rate, and said that if the city cuts taxes, it “artificially” stunted the growth of the fund.

The city agreed to the 10 year term (renewable at 3, 6, 9, and 10 years).

And the city agreed to the terms on sales tax and rate of return on the pension fund.

Regarding millage, the goal would be 2.5 percent growth on the ad valorem, with a year taken out if a millage reduction kept the revenue stream from hitting its target.

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All of this said, the difference boils down to the city insisting upon its deal, and the union wanting its latest proposal considered.

This discussion will resume in the near future.

One resolved point: the union rejected the annuity proposal out of hand.

Amended HRO expansion bill clears first Jacksonville City Council committee

Monday morning saw the first of three Jacksonville City Council committees approve the latest attempt to expand the Human Rights Ordinance.

The vote was 4-2.

The measure would extend protections in housing, public accommodations, and employment on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

As well, the bill offered in its original form carve out employment protections for businesses with fewer than 15 employees, and for owners of owner-operated rental homes and four unit buildings.

As you will read below, an amendment was passed allowing such protections for businesses with fewer than 50 employees … a measure which speaks to a fragmentation in the process.

The bill also exempts some religious organizations such as churches, synagogues, mosques, religious schools, and affiliated non-profits.

Despite the attempt to produce a clean bill, there were questions even before discussion started.

The agenda for the meeting of the Monday Morning Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee noted that the “legislation is brief” and that “thorough discussion” was recommended in committee.

Thorough discussion happened — though the bulk of it dealt with a substitute bill advanced by Councilman Bill Gulliford, drafted in the hours before the meeting.

The substitute ultimately failed, with just two votes in support after a lot of discussion.

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Gulliford’s sub included changes such as “gender identity” to “transgender identity.”

“One of the big problems,” Gulliford said, is “the number of different gender identities out there.”

Religious organizations would become a “broader” definition, Gulliford said, including such as homeless shelters.

“What I’m attempting to do,” Gulliford said, “is to make it as acceptable to all parties as possible … a serious attempt to try to end up in a place where both sides may feel a little better about it.”

“The big issues are the bathroom issue, the religious liberty issue, and the impact to small businesses,” Gulliford said.

Gulliford also referred to a letter of opposition from the Diocese of St. Augustine, which invoked the principle of “conscientious objection” to laws perceived to be unjust.

Among the features of the bill: a person being exempted from the bill if he or she is acting in accordance with a religious belief, including a belief that marriage is between one man and one woman — a provision that runs counter to federal anti-discrimination laws.

Council VP John Crescimbeni wondered if this substitute conflicted with Florida Statute, federal or state law.

The office of general counsel had no answer.

Council President Lori Boyer noted that the substitute bill would require a re-referral.

Councilman Greg Anderson took issue with Gulliford coining a term “transgender identity,” which Gulliford said was a “way to avoid a lot of argument” and “be more definitive.”

“I’ve done a lot of research on this. I’ve never seen it before,” Anderson noted.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri noted the conflict between Gulliford’s substitute and federal law.

Councilman Jim Love, a bill co-sponsor, noted also that worries of lawsuits and assaults — a specter raised by HRO expansion opponents — did not come to pass in Tampa, a city to which Jacksonville is losing jobs and economic opportunity.

As did many of his colleagues, Love opposed the bill substitute.

Love also noted that 50 percent of the state was protected by legislation barring discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity grounds.

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Responding to the substitute, bill sponsor Aaron Bowman noted that there were 30,000 service officers in Jacksonville, with 85 percent required to live outside the gates because of a lack of housing.

“A portion” of that group is divested of rights once off their base, Bowman said, especially given the military offering protections to the LGBT community.

Bowman also noted that, out of the emails he’d received on the subject, he found that out of over 3,000 emails, 2,768 support the legislation.

“That’s a 10 to 1 ratio,” Bowman said, adding later that in other cities, “the world hasn’t stopped” because of this legislation.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri, another bill sponsor, noted his contention that the council has a duty to move the bill through committees and vote on it next week.

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Gulliford had his say, of course, and stood by his substitute.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, meanwhile, asserted that the current bill is just “words on paper” because the aggrieved party “has nowhere to go to report, to complain” for relief.

The general counsel’s office described recourse, through the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, which includes “conciliation” between the parties and a potential cause finding that could assert grounds for actionable grievance.

Among the potential penalties: a $500 fine and a 90 day jail stretch.

Dennis noted that the director position, which would be necessary for enforcement, is currently unfunded; he has a bill (2016-35) to rectify that.

“This bill doesn’t go far enough in protecting who we already have and who we’re trying to add,” Dennis said.

Notable: the vast majority of complaints the JHRC hears are employment complaints related to medium-sized businesses, with 1 percent of them driven by public accommodations such as bathrooms.

Some complaints are filed by “frequent fliers,” described by JHRC Director Charlene Taylor-Hill as people who complain repeatedly.

In other jurisdictions, said the JHRC director, the addition of SOGI protections has not led to the need for additional staff.

Councilman Doyle Carter noted that the extended process of inquiry hurts the “little guy, who does not have the resources” for a lengthy JHRC investigation.

However, that burden exists now.

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Councilman Gulliford, feeling a loss coming on, got fired up.

Gulliford noted that in Houston, legislation was repealed by citizen referendum.

“You have to anticipate the worst of situations that may arise,” Gulliford said, noting that liberties are being granted to one group at the expense of another.

Councilman Hazouri said “this is not a bathroom bill like it was in Houston,” noting that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office agreed with him.

“This bill is voted on on Valentine’s Day. Will it be Happy Valentine’s Day or a Valentine’s Day Massacre?”

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The Gulliford substitute was dispatched, but amendments were offered to chip away at the bill.

One amendment: to increase the number of employees a small business could have for purposes of exemption from the sexual orientation/gender identity provisions to 50, which contravenes federal statute from the EEOCleaving the city exposed to litigation.

That amendment passed 4-2, with Garrett Dennis joining Doyle Carter, Bill Gulliford, and Joyce Morgan in support.

Council VP John Crescimbeni thundered that “this creates a two-tier system,” allowing discrimination against LGBT people that would be otherwise barred by the bill.

“That’s insane,” Crescimbeni said.

Hazouri said “we have to be consistent with what we do, just like we have to be consistent with what our sexuality is.”

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From there, discussion moved toward the meta-discourse realm, with Councilman Dennis wanting to know how the city can “regulate a private business.”

“How in the world do we regulate it here in this city,” Dennis said.

Gulliford voiced his opposition to the measure again, calling it “onerous” toward those who oppose these “burdens of laws,” with potential for “frivolous enforcement” due to the malleability of the “gray area of proof.”

Despite those caveats, the bill passed 4-2. And Dennis supported it.

****

Speaking after the meeting, Councilman Dennis discussed his thought process on the bill, including backing the amendment that seems to create tiers of permissible discrimination.

“I spoke to a few business owners,” Dennis said, and “their sweet spot is around 50” employees.

Dennis believes that protections should be “consistent across the board,” and suggested that maybe he “misunderstood” the amendment he voted for.

Dennis is also coy about where he stands on the bill.

“No one has gotten a yes or no out of me,” Dennis said. “I still have a couple of days to figure out” a position.

Dennis suggested that one way forward may to be raise the threshold of actionable discrimination to companies with 50 employees across the board, which means that the full human rights ordinance — and not just the proposed addition — would be out of compliance with EEOC guidelines.

However, “the LGBT plight is totally different” from the experience of African-Americans, Dennis added.

The next committee stop for this bill: Rules on Tuesday afternoon.

 The chair: Garrett Dennis.

Lenny Curry administration may re-open a homeless day resource center

In 2016, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry had a fractious meeting with the religious consortium ICARE.

One unresolved topic: a homeless day resource center.

The previous mayoral administration had one in the budget, which offered services three days a week.

Curry cut it. ICARE wanted reinstatement, and voiced its concerns.

The mayor was focused on the pension tax referendum, however, and stood his ground in opposition.

Curry said that “until the pension is solved, we don’t have the money for new programs.”

The question was asked… again.

“Not in this budget cycle.”

However, there is reason to hope that the next budget cycle may be more favorable.

Curry meets with ICARE representatives on Monday, and last week, one of his biggest supporters — Gary Chartrand — sent the mayor a letter of support for the initiative.

“I support the work of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation, and Empowerment. I am very encouraged that you are working with them to reopen the Jacksonville Day Resource Center,” Chartrand wrote, adding that the center served 150 people a day when it was open.

“I think Jacksonville will be a stronger city,” Chartrand wrote, “when homeless citizens have one place to go to access services like showering, counseling, and job opportunities.”

UNF capital improvements among appropriations asks by northeast Florida lawmakers

As legislators begin filing appropriations bills in Tallahassee, we are starting to get an idea what success (or failure) will look like for Northeast Florida this Session.

Two of the more compelling requests last week came from Jacksonville Rep. Clay Yarborough, who filed a pair of bills totaling $10 million for the University of North Florida.

House Bill 2269 would earmark $3 million for renovations of Schultz Hall on campus, which currently houses the Army ROTC and the history department.

The renovation would help students by increasing capacity to serve those pursuing “targeted business degrees.”

House Bill 2271 would devote $7 million to renovations of the science and engineering building on campus to better serve chemistry and physics students. A Harvard study in 2015 confirmed the need for this renovation, which was heard at November’s meeting of the Duval County Legislative Delegation.

In addition to these asks, Yarborough also had two public safety appropriations.

HB 2331 would commit $635,941 to a pedestrian and bicycle safety improvement project at the request of the city of Jacksonville.

Ballard Partners is handling the lobbying for this one, which would improve the safety situation of seven of the most dangerous crossings in Jacksonville – all of which are on state roads.

HB 2333 allocates $631,072 to crosswalk countdown improvement, and the Fiorentino Group is carrying this measure, which would replace “Walk/Don’t Walk” signs with “countdown heads” – 1,924 of them, all at dangerous intersections on state roads.

Of course, there’s more to Northeast Florida than Clay Yarborough.

***

Rep. Cord Byrd, who represents part of Duval and all of Nassau, seeks $375,000 in HB 2165 – the same amount as in last year’s budget – for the Girl Matters: Continuity of Care Model.

The Girl Matters program, an initiative of the Deloris Barr Weaver Policy Center, is intended to prevent young women dropping out of school and turning to lives of crime, offering a therapeutic framework to mitigate the risk posed by mental health issues.

For every 30 girls kept out of the maw of the criminal justice system, the state saves $831,000.

***

Clay County Rep. Travis Cummings has a trio of appropriations asks.

HB 2159 seeks a $500,000 allocation for early intervention for children with potential hearing loss; that ask is up $100,000 from the previous year. The goal is to target infants and toddlers.

HB 2263 seeks $300,000 for Clay Behavioral Health — Crisis Prevention Teams, a number unchanged from the previous year. This money “fits with the statewide effort to keep individuals with severe mental illnesses in the community as the Olmstead Act requires,” according to the appropriations request.

HB 2265 seeks $400,000 for home-delivered meals from the Northeast Florida Area Agency on AgingThat number is the same as 2016.

There is an urgent need for this money and them some in the seven-county area served by this organization: “a waiting list of frail elders waiting for home delivered meals” abounds.

***

Thus far, Lake City Rep. Elizabeth Porter has the most appropriations requests for her rural North Florida district to Jacksonville’s west.

Porter seeks $650,000 for a sewer plant at the I-75/CR 136 interchange (HB 2013) and $500,000 for sewer system replacement in MacClenny (HB 2069).

HB 2129 is a request for almost $2 million for improving agriculture and natural resources in the Suwannee River and Springs.

Porter also seeks money for community centers in her district: $700,000 for the White Springs Community Center (HB 2243) and $673,920 for the community center/fire and rescue building in Jennings (HB 2221).

The bulk of Porter’s asks are educational: $3 million of non-recurring funds for the University of Florida’s Institute for Comparative Veterinary Diagnostics (HB 2131) is one. That money will, if approved, see a $6.5 million match from other sources.

Porter also requested $2.13 million for the RiverOak Technical College Expansion Project in Live Oak, which will create a vocational education health facility (HB 2147), with the aim of pre-crime diversion.

Porter also asked for $490,000 for the Florida State University College of Medicine to evaluate behavioral health systems in the Sunshine State (HB 2219).

HB 2253 involves an allocation for the small and rural district digital literacy program. $1.1 million went into it in the last budget. Porter wants $2 million this go around.

Porter also wants $265,000 for post-secondary training in Baker County, via HB 2273This would be a new allocation, with $200,000 of the sum going to start-up capital expenditures for the hoped-for informational technology and advanced manufacturing programs.

Also, Porter also wants $800,000 for the construction of a state-approved emergency vehicle operations truck at Florida Gateway College in Olustee (HB 2217).

Finally, Porter wants $690,000 for a cover of the arena at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds (HB 2185)

 

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