City council discussed a bill this evening that could change the way the city of Jacksonville's human rights ordinance is worded.
Bill 2012-296 would change the wording of Jacksonville's anti-discrimination laws to include lesbians, gays, and transsexuals. The law already prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, and marital or familial status. The new wording of the bill adds "sexual orientation, gender identity or expression" to that list.
"I can't imagine anybody objecting to non-discriminatory language. I mean, why should we discriminate against anybody?," says councilman Bill Bishop.
Some couldn't wait until tonight's meeting to make their voice heard. Council president Steven Joost's office said they've been getting a call nearly every 5 minutes on the bill. Bishop says this issue is tough because civil rights isn't usually a topic that city councils usually take up, so he says they don't quite know all the laws and legal stuff associated with it.
"My biggest question is: Are we going to expand the definition of another protected class of people, and if so, what are the consequences of that?" Bishop says.
Businesses in Jacksonville are also jumping on board. The Jacksonville Civic Council took out a full page ad in the Florida Times-Union on Tuesday advocating the bill's passage for the betterment of the city's business future.
"It's really a matter of maintaining equal opportunity in the workplace, and that's what we need," says Jacksonville Civic Council executive director Don Shea.
About 55 companies are members of the Jacksonville Civic Council and their annual revenue tops $26 billion. Shea says that represents about 41,000 employees in the city. He says he and the other business leaders approached the issue methodically and found that many Jacksonville businesses already had these kind of anti-discrimination laws in place, so it's time for the city to join the ranks.
"Virtually every city in America does [have these protections], including all major cities in Florida, so it's really a matter of Jacksonville catching up with the rest of the community.
Shea warns that if the law is not passed, it could send the message to business owners who are thinking of moving to Jacksonville that the city does not foster a business-friendly environment and that could jeapordize the city economy.
The city council meeting begins at 5 p.m. in Council Chambers in City Hall. All are welcome to attend and participate.