Jacksonville, FL (February 14, 2017) – District 11 Council Member Danny Becton along with Council Member Bill Gulliford led the opposition in debate on Feb. 14 over the contested and controversial Human Rights Ordinance, which now gives protected status to those of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. Becton argued that bill 2017-015 was vaguely worded and left small businesses open to frivolous lawsuits. The bill passed with a 12-6 vote. Mayor Lenny Curry declined to veto the decision.
Becton, a small business owner who celebrated his 25th anniversary this past year, has hired many members of the LBGT community in the past. As to one of many concerns that the new law sets the stage for is lawsuits filed by disgruntled terminated employees. Even though Florida is an “at will” employment state, meaning employers need not offer a reason for hiring or dismissing an employee, businesses with 15 or more employees come under the new law. Becton contends that the law could easily put owners out of business due to the cost of litigation and defending themselves in court as small business companies do not have in house legal or HR departments.
The new law prohibits businesses from discriminating against the LBGT community in matters of employment, public accommodations and housing. Religious organizations are exempt from the law. However, what constitutes a religious organization was open for interpretation.
Becton told the packed council chamber that passage of the bill could cause more discrimination, not less. Employers may engage in “silent discrimination” against LGBT individuals to avoid potential lawsuits. Prospective small business owners may avoid starting their own business in Jacksonville for the same reason.
During the course of the City Council meeting, CM Gulliford offered two amendments. The first was to place the question on the ballot as a charter revision referendum. Becton spoke on the amendment’s behalf. Becton said because of the Council’s policy from the initial onset of stating how many emails and speakers were for and against the Bill, the Council had already created a precedent in weighting the popular vote of the Bill. So, given this slippery slope that was faulty in so many ways, he had no choice but to support the referendum amendment that was being presented to allow for the ultimate popular vote, an election! The amendment failed by a 6-12 vote.
Later Gulliford brought back the bill that was presented in 2012 as a substitute and it was also defeated 6-12 as well.
Becton, in his hopes of protecting small businesses, proffered an amendment that would have exempted any privately-owned business or closed corporation that does not trade its stock to the general public. That amendment failed 6-12 as well.
Throughout the months of discussion leading up to the vote, Becton asked proponents how the bill will specifically reduce or eliminate discrimination among LGBT individuals. The answers were vague falling into the “It’s the right thing to do” or “It will make our city look good” categories. If that was the case, Becton said, this shouldn’t be a binding ordinance; instead it should have been drafted as a nonbinding resolution stating the city’s view that no one should face discrimination.
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