JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—It's deja vu for supporters and opponents of the expansion of Jacksonville's Human Rights Ordinance.
City Councilman Bill Gulliford is proposing that the expansion of the HRO be put to a public vote, which is the same thing he did last year. The amendment would add protections for the LGBT community to the city's HRO.
"The only way to do it is to go to the voters," Gulliford told First Coast News over the phone Thursday. He said he'll get the measure to the voters somehow and that he believes the issue has become contentious.
Gulliford hosted a special forum on the HRO Thursday afternoon, where supporters and opponents voiced their opinions and concerns to several council members. Back in January, the public comment period spanned two days and eight full hours as members of both sides argued passionately for their cause.
The Jacksonville City Council is set to vote on the amended HRO at their next meeting February 14 at their next meeting. The current bill before council does not call for a public vote.
Council member Aaron Bowman introduced the legislation at the first city council meeting of 2017.
Supporters say the measure would give equal protections to LGBT residents while detractors say it is unnecessary and could infringe upon religious liberties. It includes exemptions for small businesses and the religious, but critics say those are not sufficient.
Gulliford said if the vote comes down to 10-9 for either side of those on the HRO debate, it would be unfortunate.
"The time to do it is now," Bowman said. The council member said he's gotten 2,500 emails in the past few weeks and a nine-to-one majority of them are in support of the amendment.
"A large majority says, 'please let's get this behind us and move forward,'" he said.
Bowman added over the phone he feels comfortable the measure will be fairly heard. He called Gulliford's meeting Thursday a "little mini-forum." He said because Gulliford only had a half dozen council members with him that it doesn't look favorable.
He also said the people could have a chance to change the amended HRO after it passes, and that if they do, so be it.
Public comment is closed on this issue.
The HRO bill is scheduled to be voted on Valentine's Day. If council decides to put it to the voters, it is unclear when that might happen. The next countywide election is not scheduled until 2018, but council could call for a special referendum.