Final Jacksonville Council Committee Votes Yes On LGBT Anti-Discrimination Bill

Feb 8, 2017

Credit Ray Hollister / WJCT News

Updated 2:45 p.m.

The last of three city council committees voted in favor of passing an LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance bill, which will be voted on next week by the full council.

The finance committee voted 4-3 on Wednesday to recommend the council add sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected characteristics like race and religion. The final vote will be held by the City Council on Tuesday.

Councilman Bill Gulliford offered an amendment to the bill that would have put the protections to a referendum public vote, but it failed 2-5.

However, an amendment to further clarify what counts as a religious institution did pass. Religious organizations are exempt from having to comply with anti-discrimination laws if doing so would go against its religious beliefs.

The finance committee voted 4-3 on Wednesday to recommend the full council approve an HRO bill.
Credit City of Jacksonville

Religious Organizations

Although Council President Lori Boyer isn’t on the finance committee, she offered a religious exemption amendment bill the committee voted to adopt.

Council members had been questioning which religious-affiliated organizations, aside from churches, mosques and religious schools, would be exempt from having to comply with the HRO legislation.

Boyer said her amendment cleans up the bill’s language to define religious organization as including religious corporations, associations or societies.

“The goal here is to provide clarity in what I thought the bill said,” she said.  

Boyer said that means an organization like the Salvation Army should be exempt.

Whether an organization meets the definition of a religious organization depends on factors including if it’s a nonprofit or holds prayer services. There are nine factors in all the human rights commission would consider before deciding if an organization is qualified for a religious exemption.

But Councilman John Crescimbeni has asked for further clarification from city lawyers before Tuesday’s vote.

He gave them a list of organizations including Edward Waters College, the Salvation Army, City Rescue Mission and Hobby Lobby and asked they determine if those organizations would be exempt.

The full body can decide whether to accept the amendment in the final vote.

Gulliford’s Referendum

The finance committee voted against an amendment, offered by Bill Gulliford, that would have allowed the public to vote and decide whether LGBT protections should be added to city anti-discrimination laws.

The referendum vote would have taken place in August 2018.

He said a public vote would have put the issue to bed and Councilman Sam Newby agreed.

“I trust the people of Jacksonville to make the right decision one way or the other,” Newby said.

Sponsor of the HRO bill Aaron Bowman disagreed. He said a referendum vote would bring negative attention to Jacksonville.

“It is going to hang over our heads for the next year and a half,” he said.

Final Vote

The bill would allow LGBT people to be able to make a local discrimination claim in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations.

Earlier this week, two other council committees also voted to recommend the bill pass in full council.

Council members Hazouri, Bowman, Joyce Morgan, Garrett Dennis, Scott Wilson, Katrina Brown, Greg Anderson, Anna Lopez Brosche, Crescimbeni and Jim Love have voted in favor of the bill in committees.

Gulliford, Matt Schellenberg, Danny Becton, Doyle Carter and Newby have voted against the bill in committees.  

Reggie Gaffney, Al Ferraro, Boyer and Reggie Brown were not on any of the committees that heard this bill.

The bill needs 10 votes to pass. If Mayor Lenny Curry vetoes it, the council can override it with 13 votes.

Council members can also decide to vote differently than they did in committees.

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Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.