Monday, July 2, 2012

Update on Jacksonville, Florida’s Proposed Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

The proposed anti-discrimination ordinance in Jacksonville, Florida, Human Rights Ordinance 296, stalled in City Council last week and will not be reviewed again until at least July 16th. Human Rights Ordinance 296 would alter the wording of an existing Jacksonville anti-discrimination policy to include LGBT people. In its original form, the ordinance would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, and access to private business.

The bill has been a topic of heated debate since it was introduced in May. Those opposed to the ordinance, such as Attorney Roger Gannum and Senate candidate Aaron Bean, claim that it will violate the liberty of businesses and religious leaders, and open up companies to a flood of lawsuits. Despite this claim, the Jacksonville Civic Council, composed of 55 corporations and 41,000 employees in the city, expressed overwhelming support for the provision and said that it will create a “business-friendly” environment in Jacksonville. Similarly, 25 religious leaders in Jacksonville wrote a letter to Mayor Alvin Brown urging him to support Human Rights Ordinance 296.

On June 12th, City Council President Stephen Joost, expressed interest in having the bill voted on before the end of his term on June 30th. However, last week the two City Council committees reviewing the bill, the Rules Committee and the Community Development, Public Health and Safety Committee, failed to make a decision about the ordinance, thus postponing action on the bill until the committee reconvenes in mid-July. “It got put at the end of the agenda today, it was at the end of the agenda two weeks ago. It gets what time is left and that’s probably not fair,” said Rules Committee vice chair John Crescembeni. The ordinance cannot be voted on by City Council until both committees pass it.

There will be new City Council members the next time the bill is under review. Three Rules Committee members are leaving the committee, including the chair, Bill Bishop. Replacing Bishop is Clay Yarborough, an open opponent of the anti-discrimination ordinance. Yarborough claims that he has received 1,600 emails from people in favor of protections for LGBT anti-discrimination, and 3,200 from those against it.

Councilman Warren Jones, the bill’s sponsor, recently offered a provision to the bill that would remove “gender identity or expression” from the proposed ordinance. This revision was introduced to encourage support for the bill by limiting its scope to only prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Nonetheless, it does not seem like this alteration will help the progression of the bill due to the lack of support within the City Council for any part of the ordinance.

Take Action: If you live in Jacksonville, it is imperative that you express your support for Human Rights Ordinance 296 by clicking here. Tell your representatives that you are against LGBT workplace discrimination, and help prevent City Council from continuing to stall or alter this critical bill.

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