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Posted: 3:00 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017

Jacksonville Councilman poised to introduce new HRO expansion legislation

Jacksonville City Hall
Stephanie Brown
Jacksonville City Hall

By Stephanie Brown

Jacksonville, FL —

A debate years in the making is preparing to surface in Jacksonville once again.

Councilman Aaron Bowman has called a public meeting for Tuesday to discuss the rollout of a Human Rights Ordinance expansion. Bowman tells WOKV that, if there seems to be enough support, he has a bill ready to introduce that afternoon to be considered by the full City Council.

“I think the world understands that there’s no room for discrimination of any type of people, and things are changing,” Bowman says.

Almost one year ago, the City Council withdrew two bills that dealt with expanding the HRO to protect against employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. One bill would have been a direct vote by the City Council on whether to expand, while the other bill would have pushed the decision to voters.

Amid this debate, Mayor Lenny Curry issued a directive to bring City employment policies in compliance with federal law preventing discrimination on any basis. Both Council measures were withdrawn in order to see the impact this directive would have.

A WOKV investigation found that coming in to compliance with federal law meant adding wording to specifically prohibit discrimination based on “sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression”- which is exactly what was being debated. Once that change was made in Jacksonville employment laws, many independent authorities followed suit. Housing and public accommodations were not specifically addressed in the directive.

Bowman has asked business and community leaders, as well as City Councilmen, to meet to discuss any concerns they still have, but he already has a four-page draft legislation ready to file if he believes there will be support for passage. While he declined to give specifics on the legislation before rolling it out to other Council members, he did say there are exemptions that would address some of the concerns he’s previously heard.

“One thing that we really know that we’ve got to do is ensure that we’re protecting our small businesses and also our religious organizations,” Bowman says.

Bowman says the issue became even more real when they saw the fallout in North Carolina following their debate on LGBT rights, and the impact that has on the business community. His draft is modeled on anti-discrimination protections that have been effective when implemented in other parts of the nation.

This debate in Jacksonville goes back even further, when expansion was voted down in 2012. Bowman hopes that the clear and specific wording in his bill, along with what’s been happening on the national climate and the adaptations that have already been made locally, will now push the change forward.

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