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First Coast

Jacksonville LGBT Rights Advocates Concerned About New House Bill

800px-Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skies.jpg

Jacksonville LGBT advocates are concerned about a bill making its way through the Florida House.

Florida House Bill 17, sponsored by Palm Bay Republican Randy Fine, would repeal local business regulations not specifically authorized by state law.

Fine said he wants to make it simpler for companies to do business in the state.

Opponents of the bill are worried that repeals would include the recently-passed human right ordinance the Jacksonville City Council approved.

Dan Merkan, chair of LGBT advocacy group Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, said the bill would take away the power for communities to decide what’s best for them.

“On it’s face, HB 17 is really a terrible monstrosity of a bill. It should never become law and it’s really an attack on local government,” Merkan said.

He compares the bill to HB 2 in North Carolina, where billions of dollars were lost when a bill restricting protection for people around the state went through.

A lawyer with Jacksonville Coalition for Equality Jimmy Midyette has been watching the bill since it’s introduction.

“To me, it is a concern to see such a broad bill moving in the legislature, and it should be defeated,” Midyette said.

He said the original bill proposal would have grandfathered in regulations local government had enacted by the first of this year, putting the HRO — passed Feb. 14 — in danger. However, the subcommittee of the Florida House changed the bill to have an effective date of July 1.

“But for all local government regulation — including HROs in Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami and Tampa. They would all be at risk come Jan. 1  — maybe July 1— 2020, whenever they would have the sunset provision.

“So even though we would be safe for three years or so, in 2020 we would be back to no protection,” Midyette said.

Midyette said there is a lot of bipartisan opposition to the bill. The Florida League of Cities and the Association of Counties oppose it because of local rules, a component of the Florida Constitution.

“The idea is that local officials closest to their constituents know how to regulate and control the cities and counties. There’s a great deal of headwind pushing against this bill and I’m given some hope by that,” Midyette said.

Although the measure doesn’t have a companion bill in the Florida Senate, it has just one stop left before reaching the House Floor.

Photo: "Rainbow Flag and Blue Skies" by Ludovic Bertron used under Creative Commons license.

Contact Intern Serena Summerfield at newsteam@wjct.org, 904.358.6317, or Twitter @sumserfield.