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Opposing sides gear up for Jacksonville HRO public hearing on Tuesday night

Groundhog Day is over a week away, but those who attend Tuesday night’s Jacksonville City Council meeting will feel inevitable deja vu.

Some will think it’s 2016. Others will think it’s 2012.

That’s because the fervent arguments they’ll hear tonight on Jacksonville’s perpetual hot-button issue — expanding the Human Rights Ordinance to LGBT people, via including language protecting sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression — have been rehearsed for close to five years now.

And the meter is still running.

When the issue was last debated a fortnight ago, proponents outnumbered opponents in the council chambers.

That’s something that the Orlando-based Florida Family Action group, which opposes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, wants to avoid Tuesday night.

In an “action alert” email, the group calls for “all hands on deck,” and urges an early arrival.

“We recommend 4:30 pm or earlier to assure a seat and better parking as LGBT supporters of the HRO intend to pack the room.  Wear bright American flag BLUE!   We must show the City Council that Jacksonville does not want this,” reads the missive.

Offering further incentive: free parking in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church preschool garage for opponents.

The Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, meanwhile, is attempting to organize supporters with the same amount of urgency.

“Tomorrow is the big day: At 5pm, the City Council will hold the first and only public hearing on the #JaxHRO—and what happens tomorrow night will help determine the fate of LGBT non-discrimination protections in Jacksonville! Don’t miss out on this watershed moment in our campaign to pass the #JaxHRO,” reads their communications.

This third iteration of the HRO bill is shorter, with more attention paid in presentation for carve out protections for churches and small businesses, which is a constant sticking point for some fence sitters.

As well, there is language ensuring that the HRO can’t be used as protection, on “gender identity” grounds, for someone who may want to exploit the ordinance to enter opposite-sex public accomodations, such as restrooms and changing areas.

Will those changes be enough to get 10 votes?

Will they be enough to get 13, taking the issue off Mayor Lenny Curry‘s desk?

When asked last week whether he would veto an HRO bill, Curry wasn’t showing his cards.

“City Council’s job and role is to legislate,” Curry said, “and I’ve been consistent in saying I respect that. Any issue that they choose to legislate on, I’ll evaluate when it lands on my desk. That includes this issue.”

We noted that Curry had yet to veto a bill during his 18 months in office. Would he veto HRO expansion?

“Look,” Curry said, “there’s been a number of issues that have been discussed [during] the year and a half I’ve been in office. And I’ve not weighed in. When they legislate, that is their job, that is their role, they need to have their debate and do what they think is the right thing as a legislative body. And I need to evaluate that when it lands on my desk at that time … and make a decision from there.”

****

The vote is slated to take place February 14, and much speculation exists about how the vote count will go.

Some supporters (such as certain district council members) are happy to affirm their support off the record or on background, but don’t want to get “out front” on the issue.

Some people who may have been opponents in the past reportedly have been persuaded by prominent advocates of the HRO expansion; most notably, Jacksonville Jaguars (and increasingly, Jacksonville itself) owner Shad Khan, who continues to marvel at it being 2017 and LGBT rights still being debated.

(Perhaps Khan didn’t get the memo that “Jacksonville doesn’t discriminate“?)

Meanwhile,  there is a sort of meta-discourse among certain council members about the debate.

A great example of that was from a recent committee meeting, where Chairman Sam Newby pretended to upbraid HRO bill sponsor Aaron Bowman for not bringing his “book” to the meeting.

The book: a binder with committee issues.

Newby said something along the lines of “well, I was going to support whatever it was you wanted, but I might not now.” [That’s a rough paraphrase, to be clear].

Newby had, until recently, been counted in the “no” column on HRO.

Yet a statement like that sounds more like “call me maybe.”

****

The full HRO vote is on February 14.

Meanwhile, a variety of action items abound on the agenda for Tuesday evening. Expect no resistance on any of the following:

— Resolution 2016-766 would add “code enforcement liens” to the list of claims, bills and judgments that may be settled by the Finance Director, Office of General Counsel or Mayor. Nuisance abatement liens with a principal amount of $1,000 up to $4,999 would be settled by the Director of Finance; liens below $10,000, by the general counsel; and liens up to $99,999 would be settled by the Mayor with the concurrence of the General Counsel and the Finance Director.

— Ordinance 2016-795, authorizing moving money from closed capital project accounts to ShotSpotter and other city priorities, will, among other things, “appropriate $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5 square mile area of Health Zone 1,” an area that historically leads the city in gunplay.

The $435,000 allocation was part of a larger package of $1.356 million of unused capital improvement funds that will be funneled into a variety of projects.

— Ordinance 2016-797, authorizing the disposition of 101 pieces of surplus property in Council Districts 7 through 10 and 14, will also be approved.

The total value of these properties: just over $783,000, ranging from a vacant lot valued at $140 (a great gift idea) to a single family home valued at just under $60,000.

Community housing development organizations get the first crack at developing these properties for single-family, owner-occupied homes as long as the CHDOs don’t have liens; CHDOs are allowed to handle five at a time.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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