Legislative approaches diverge on Jax HRO

Bill Gulliford

In the wake of Councilman Bill Gulliford calling for a referendum on expansion of the Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance, one thing is clear.

On the HRO, there is no clarity, with business community members, Council members, and the mayor’s office all singing from different hymnals.

FloridaPolitics.com caught up with various Jacksonville VIPs today, and notable was the lack of convergence on 2016-001.

Former Mayor John Delaney, the Chair of the Jax Chamber. He told us that “we’ve got a plan,” and more details will be coming soon.

Council President Greg Anderson? He’s staying out of it for now.

Mayor Lenny Curry?

Curry told FloridaPolitics.com that he was “grateful that Gulliford waited until the end of the Community Conversations” to move forward with the referendum proposal, saying that he “respected the Council member’s prerogative.”

That said, Curry added that he’s “not going to allow” bills, news conferences, and other acts of political theater to “interfere with the process” of the mayor’s office crafting its own approach to the bill.

Not all Council members are sold on a referendum, including two proponents of HRO expansion.

Councilman Aaron Bowman decried the Gulliford referendum as a “bad idea,” given that Council members, including him, were “elected to show leadership.”

Bowman, who supports a fully-inclusive HRO, is a no on the referendum.

Another opponent, Tommy Hazouri, who is in the process of readying legislation.

Hazouri spoke at considerable length with FloridaPolitics.com on why a referendum is not a good idea.

“I just don’t believe in a referendum on human rights,” Hazouri said, adding that a “referendum is for sales taxes, and big ticket items,” such as the Better Jacksonville Plan.

Echoing the comments of Bowman, Hazouri said that Council members were “elected to make tough decisions.”

Hazouri, meanwhile, ran a campaign predicated on a public safety message, but “also ran in support of an all-inclusive HRO,” something that he feels is essential for Jacksonville to be the “city of the future.”

Noting that 200 major cities, including five major cities in Florida, have codified such protections, Hazouri sees the hold up as evidence that Jacksonville is “lagging behind” and not demonstrating that Jacksonville is a “welcoming city.”

Failure to move forward in the legislative process and being willing to push the process to a referendum, Hazouri added, “makes a policy statement on who Jacksonville is and what Jacksonville is about.”

To that end, Hazouri advocates a fully-inclusive measure, saying that the transgender community “can’t be left behind.”

“If I were mayor today,” Hazouri said, “this would not be an issue.”

Gulliford’s measure struck Hazouri as especially interesting, given that the consensus of the business community and the feeling of the executive branch was to give Curry time to research the matter and formulate policy.

“I waited on Curry,” Hazouri said, with the idea being that the mayor’s office would file legislation.

With the Gulliford bill, however, Hazouri feels that a bill for a legislative process for HRO expansion “needs to travel side by side.”

Hazouri also urged the Council President to take a different approach than what happened in 2012.

“I’d love to see a Committee of the Whole with the entire Council,” Hazouri said, saying that it’s “exhausting to hear a lot of the same things” in different committees.

Hazouri noted, regarding Gulliford’s bill, that it will be supported by those using “religion as a guise to be against” HRO expansion.

That said, “this isn’t about Hazouri Vs Gulliford” but “right versus wrong.”

Hazouri, as is known, has been ready to move on a bill since he got elected, and he sees the referendum proposal as a “slap in the face of integrity and importance” of the measure.

Hazouri also had his doubts about the “plan” Delaney, a 2012 supporter of the legislation, referred to, saying that the idea was to “broker a deal.”

“The real issue here is the all-inclusive bill,” Hazouri said, likening the matter to women’s suffrage in 1920 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, neither of which would have happened by way of referendum.

Hazouri, who values the “six words that speak to the LGBT community” in the bill, noted that Houston Mayor Annise Parker told local Democrats to be aware of tactics like the “bathroom issue,” which in Houston, HERO proponents didn’t take seriously enough.

Hazouri noted that since 2012, the bill has been “massaged,” with the General Counsel looking at legislation in other cities.

As well, there is a strong chance of at least one Republican co-sponsor for the Hazouri measure.

With at least two Jacksonville HRO bills in the offing, the plot is complicated for HRO expansion advocates.

There are those who believe there may be up to 9 supporters for a referendum, including African American Democrats and white social conservative Republicans.

As well, Gulliford, who chairs the Finance Committee, and Matt Schellenberg, who chairs Rules, are not in support of HRO expansion, which may skew treatment of these bills in the committee process.

Gulliford’s measure is written more soberly than some might expect: establishing “the right of equal opportunity and access to employment and the right to nondiscriminatory treatment in employment, housing and public accommodations are basic rights that should be extended to all citizens without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, disability, age, marital status, familial status, or any circumstances other than merit and qualification.”

Questions no doubt will be raised about motivation, including of ballot timing.

And the committee process will address that, for Gulliford’s bill, Hazouri’s bill, and whatever else might come out.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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