Jacksonville’s General Counsel decried a “mindboggling” and “bizarre” appeals court ruling against a local LGBT rights law this weekend and vowed to fight to defend the law.
“It’s a hyper-technical ruling with some bizarre findings,” said Jason Gabriel, the city’s head lawyer.
“The city appropriately published (didn’t drop the ball in any way). Rules have been on the books for enforcement in their entirety since the law was passed in early 2017,” Gabriel contends, noting that the county court agreed with the city.
“For anyone to think the city dropped some part of this (and didn’t fix it for that matter) in the subsequent three years since its passage is mindboggling to me,” Gabriel added.
Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal reversed a decision by a Duval County court to dismiss a challenge to the city’s expansion of its Human Rights Ordinance.
The court sided with plaintiffs, who contended that amendments approved in 2017 were “null and void” because their adoption violated state law.
The city approved a swath of code changes as part of what was popularly called “passing the HRO,” but plaintiffs led by the social conservative Liberty Counsel contended those changes were not laid out and that the Office of General Counsel would “write the ordinance later.”
The county court did not entertain this argument, contending the plaintiffs lacked standing and could not challenge the law until they could demonstrate being adversely impacted by it.
The appeals court saw it differently, saying the city violated “governing principles of notice and due process.”
Gabriel notes that the “full text of the rules … was set forth for the Council and the public, both before or after enactment, and was immediately officially published after enactment,” a contradiction of the opinion from the 1st DCA reads.
The Office of General Counsel is “reviewing all opportunities at this point in order to advise City Council appropriately, and that includes all legal, appellate, or legislative options.”
“The city takes this issue very seriously,” Gabriel added.
Incoming City Council President Tommy Hazouri, who sponsored the 2017 legislation, said Friday all options are on the table, including potentially passing the law again. The city’s general counsel confirmed that potential cure is on the table, as is an appeal to what is currently a conservative Florida Supreme Court.
The bill passed 12-6 in 2017, approved by a City Council that has seen change in membership since. Republican Mayor Lenny Curry did not back the legislation, which became law without his signature.
It remains to be seen how eager this Council is to take up an issue that thoroughly exhausted the previous group.
The “damn HRO is back, as if JEA, 1/2 cent sales tax for DCPS, a global pandemic (Covid-19), economic challenges and hurricane season on the damn horizon aren’t enough…this isn’t what I thought our service would (look) like 10 months in,” groused first-term Democrat Brenda Priestly-Jackson.
Jacksonville had one of the worst ratings for LGBT rights in a major city before the HRO passed, according to the Human Rights Campaign, but great strides have been made since.
A rating of 23 out of 100 in 2015 has since surged to 79 out of 100 in 2019.