JACKSONVILLE, Fla.- A Jacksonville City Councilor is getting ready for a renewed push to pass a Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) that advocates say would provide necessary protections for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.
Proponent and City Councilman, Aaron Bowman, R-3, held a public hearing at City Hall Wednesday afternoon to discuss with the community about their hopes of rolling out the HRO bill in 2017.
The bill, which is designed to give protections in areas ranging from employment to housing and business, failed to pass in 2012 and 2016. But Bowman and other leaders backing the bill like City Councilman and former Mayor Tommy Hazouri announced that they have cut down the bill from 14 pages to five pages, changing the code to include small business and religious exemptions to help it pass.
"What's important is that it's readable," Bowman said. "What we tried to do is make it simple to understand."
Jimmy Midyette, the director for the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, said the city council first looked at the best practices from other places that implemented HRO laws, as well as considered concerns brought up from public meetings since 2012. He said they considered concerns from businesses, the religious community and the LGBT community, and addressed issues like the controversial restroom debate.
According to Midyette, small businesses do not need to make any change to their bathroom facilities. He said the bill doesn't require businesses to have separate transgender bathrooms, but rather allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom by which they identify with gender-wise.
"We want to be welcoming... we want to attract new opportunities," Midyette said.
Only a few folks opposing the HRO were in attendance, but they did not get the chance to speak.
"No opposition was voiced at all," said Barbara Lockyer, an opponent of the HRO. "We are not being heard. I'm not a religious fanatic, but that's not the way God intended us to be."
When asked about opposing religious concerns, however, Bowman said that, according to the bill, religious organizations can turn away folks if they wanted, but only for religious activities.
Several business leaders were also in attendance at Wednesday's meeting, including the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. Chamber chair, Darnell Smith, echoed the voices of many business leaders present, telling city council members the HRO bill would help Jacksonville stay competitive and attract new businesses.
"Several employers want to move to Jacksonville," Smith said. "(The HRO) is a question they ask. They make it clear that it's important to them... that's it's a very important factor in consideration of coming to Jacksonville."
Smith said the Jacksonville Chamber represents thousands of businesses in the city who voiced in favor of HRO.
Bowman also brought up the backlash North Carolina faced after it passed H.B. 2, which is widely viewed as an anti-LGBT bill. The state saw millions of dollars in losses after major businesses and sporting events including PayPal, NCAA championship tournaments and the NBA All-Star game pulled out of the state.
"I hope we are in the right direction this year," Hazouri said. "Jacksonville can't afford to stand in an neutral corner anymore. We are in purgatory and it's going to cost us."
You can read the new HRO bill that's planned for 2017 below: