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City Council Vice President Lori Boyer wanted both human rights ordinance bills withdrawn from consideration.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 5, 201612:00 PM EST

HRO bills narrowly escape early exit

by: David Chapman

Neither bill determining how Jacksonville will decide to expand anti-discrimination laws were approved or denied Thursday.

City Council member Tommy Hazouri said the fact they’re still on the table is a “little victory.”

The first of three scheduled council meetings on the subject nearly became the last after a push was made to withdraw both bills that would chart the path on whether lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people should be added to the city’s anti-discrimination law.

One deals with keeping the decision with elected officials. The other puts it on a ballot for voters.

Council Vice President Lori Boyer advocated for a third option: Letting Mayor Lenny Curry’s directive to align the city’s employment policies with federal guidelines and require vendors to follow similar procedures be the only guiding principle.

Curry made his stance on the issue public last week.

Boyer said she wasn’t comfortable with either bill before council and agreed with Curry’s stance the city’s violent crime issue should be a top priority.

The full impact of Curry’s directive isn’t known, she said, and should have a chance to be implemented in the coming months.

So, she asked for a vote to withdraw Hazouri’s bill — the one that has elected leaders determining the anti-discrimination outcome. Bill Gulliford before had said he would withdraw his bill for a referendum if Hazouri’s proposal was withdrawn.

And before any debate could take place, Matt Schellenberg called the question — a move that would have stymied discussion and immediately brought the issue to a vote.

A flustered Hazouri — and many others it turned out — wanted to have that talk and voted against Schellenberg’s effort.

“This is a cop out to me,” Hazouri said.

In a later interview, he said too much time and effort had been spent on meetings and receiving community input to simply kill the bills.

And although he respected Curry’s decision, Hazouri said council should not act as a “rubber stamp” to the mayor on any topic.

“It’s our referendum,” he said.

While addressing the city’s violent crime and pension woes are important, Hazouri said the equality issue is, too, and should be fully addressed.

If city employees can have such protections, why not all of Jacksonville, he asked.

Other council members also didn’t want to see the issue end, at least when the public has been told there were three meetings that would culminate with a vote March 3.

“The process must be honored,” said Reggie Brown.

That process was laid out by council President Greg Anderson last month, but Anderson agreed with Boyer.

The mayor’s directive changed things and the prudent decision, he said, was to “press the pause button,” see how Curry’s changes played out and revisit the issue in three months.

Organizations both pro and con also weighed in during and before the meeting.

The JAX Chamber and Jacksonville Civic Council support an all-inclusive policy, the latter making its stance clear in a letter sent Thursday.

A group of opponents in the faith community had a news conference before the meeting to voice its stance. And equality advocates, too, were on display.

Several other council members weighed in on the withdrawal idea and, ultimately, it failed by an 11-8 vote.

The debate still goes on.

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