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Jacksonville Social Justice Committee Begins Forming Legislation

Outside of City Hall, large building with steps leading to the entrance, a couple of palm trees out in the front
Sky Lebron
/
WJCT News
Committee members began detailing their plans for addressing inequities in Jacksonville with new legislation.

After a few months of preliminary discussion, members of the Jacksonville City Council’s Social Justice and Community Investment Committee are starting on legislation to address the city’s equity issues. 

When the committee was first formed, committee co-chair Brenda Priestly Jackson asked all of its members to list key areas of concern in Jacksonville, ranging from infrastructure to economic opportunities. Based off of each council member’s answers, they were tasked with coming up with legislation to mitigate those issues.

Funding for Job Placement, Underserved College Students

To begin Monday’s meeting, City Councilman Sam Newby talked about his legislation, which would give $200,000 to support job readiness opportunities to underserved students through scholarships. Half of the money would go to Florida State College at Jacksonville, while the other half would help fund workforce industrial training. 

“Many students face various access [issues] to personal education, due to transportation, childcare, loss of wages during enrollment, textbooks and materials, technology and other costs of enrollment,” Newby said. 

FSCJ’s president John Avendano joined the virtual committee meeting, saying the money could be used to help students in a variety of ways.

“The things that we've talked about more specifically would be to apply at least $500 to 200 different students to truly move the needle,” Avendano said. “However, we're flexible in what we're able to apply and provide, so we can scale that up or down any way that the city would like.”

Meanwhile, James Coleman, the CEO of Workforce Industrial Training, said the half of the money his company would receive would help homeless veterans, transitioning adults, and underemployed individuals get jobs with higher average wages. 

Coleman said the $100,000 would help train an extra 50 people for a year. 

“This is one program that I choose to support, when you're talking about social justice, and really trying to make a real change in a community,” Councilman Reggie Gaffney said. 

Addressing Neighborhood Blight

Committee members Randy White and Randy DeFoor are creating legislation for a startup program to clean up areas of the city in disarray. Asking for $200,000, the council members said they would collaborate with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department to find a part of the city that has some of the highest rates of crime and needs the most help.

“We want to do it in a concentrated area,” DeFoor said. “Take some data also within that area in terms of what's going on from a criminal component, clean it up, and then take that information and see if there's a change in the crime in that area afterwards. And if it works, maybe we can expand that program little by little throughout Jacksonville.”

“Cleaning up” the area could range from tearing down old, unusable structures, to mowing the grass in an unattended lot. 

Gaffney asked if there was a possibility of creating extra part-time jobs by paying people to complete the clean ups, with DeFoor saying she would look into that. 

“I really think it's important to beautify areas to take it back from crime,” said Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman. 

Healthcare Access

Councilman Ron Salem said he is working on a bill to provide mental health services to recently released prisoners, but he was waiting on a response from a judge to determine how certain inmates are diverted after release. 

He said he is still working on the specifics of the bill, but it could involve asking for a financial contribution of $212,000. 

Councilman Michael Boylan said he is unsure if he will need any financial contribution for his legislation, but it would involve expanding healthcare access for low-income families.

Both councilmen plan to hold public meetings on their legislation in the next few weeks. 

Teen Court Expansion

Committee co-chair Matt Carlucci is working on a $140,000 piece of legislation that would help  fund Jacksonville Teen Court, which helps minors facing their first misdemeanor go through a program in which they have to be jurors on other cases and take part in community service. Their cases are also dropped to a civil citation. 

“This is a terrific way to have a positive impact,” Carlucci said. “I don't want these kids to not have a second chance and wind up and in a system in the jail or some pre-detention facility.” 

According to Kids Hope Alliance CEO Mike Weinstein, the program is currently funded through traffic violations. 

The additional money would help fund two more full-time case managers and one part-time case manager, which would lessen the workload. Weinstein said left over money would go toward counseling.

“This is a system that helps keep the kids out of the situation where it's harder to get into the military, it's harder to get their first job, because of the arrest records,” Weinstein said. “This provides them an opportunity to basically go through a different system, get sentencing, and ultimately not have the same record.”

Future Legislation

Priestly Jackson held off on discussing an infrastructure bill she’s working on, although she’s mentioned the legislation in previous meetings, along with a special taxing district to help underserved children. 

The funding for the pieces of legislation is primarily coming from a pot of money supplied by Gaffney, who moved nearly $3 million from his district’s community reinvestment committee.

“I got a lot of criticism from the CRA and that community out there about all the needs that they have, and what my colleagues, what we're gonna do with these dollars... you give me great hope to say this is what we’re doing with these dollars,” Gaffney said. 

Priestly Jackson said the committee will come up with a master plan to house all of the legislation. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 26.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.