Jacksonville Council To Discuss HRO Expansion After Hours Of Public Comment

Jan 25, 2017

Credit Richard Datchler / Flickr

After more than seven hours of public comment over two days, a public hearing for a city council bill that would add LGBT protections to the city’s human rights ordinance concluded Wednesday afternoon.

A line of hundreds of people wrapped around city hall Tuesday night, waiting to speak at the hearing. The crowd was so large, multiple overflow rooms, including one at downtown’s library were also opened up.

At midnight, about 100 people were still waiting to speak. Council President Lori Boyer stopped the meeting allowing for it to reconvene at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The next morning, people — including small business owner Susan Gallo — were back at City Hall waiting for their turn to speak.

“I wasn’t going to come back this morning because I had some appointments but then I got up this morning, I rearranged my appointments and I just said ‘I need to go back,’ ” Gallo said.

The proposed measure would ban discrimination in housing, jobs and public services for LGBT people. Discrimination based on things like race or religion is already illegal in the human rights ordinance. Gallo spoke in favor of adding the protection.

“It’s so important for the city to have,” she said. “My children  are young adults, they live in a very diverse, inclusive world and I think it’s important for our city to take a stand.”

And people, like Earl Testy, who also returned in the morning, opposed the bill. He asked the council to put the legislation to a public vote.

“It’s clear to me as a political novice that you need a general referendum on this,” he said, “Otherwise, people are going to say ‘you crammed this down our throats.’ ”

Testy quoted scripture in his comment, as did others on both sides of the issue. The legislation would exempt religious organizations and small businesses from having to comply.

Next month, Council will discuss the bill in committees where there will be no public comment.

Three council members — Jim Love, Aaron Bowman and Tommy Hazouri — introduced the bill but no other members have said they’d co-sponsor. During committee meetings, members will discuss the bill and have the opportunity to ask questions and offer amendments.

A vote on the matter will take place the following week on Feb. 14.

Photo: "Rainbow Flag" used under Creative Commons.

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