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Jacksonville, FL (February 9, 2021) – Council Member Becton stood on the opposing side and voted No on Bill 2020-759 regarding Civil Citation for public gatherings on private property because of his disapproval for passing a law penalizing property owners and small businesses for what should be the responsibility of the individual.

Bill 2020-759 was introduced to amend Chapter 614 (Jacksonville Public Order and Safety Code) in the Ordinance Code “to create a new Section 614.102 (Large Gatherings Prohibited), which defined large gatherings to be 50 or more individuals standing or sitting closer than six feet from each other, outside of a completely-enclosed structure, in or near any public right-of-way, property or building in the City for business or social purposes, and which prevents the safe ingress, egress or through-passage of individuals in a public right-of-way, on a property or near a building, where the public has a right of access.”

In the language of the legislation, an expiration date of December 31, 2021 was proposed, unless the council decided to extend it to a later date.

According to the bill summary, “The owner or person in charge of a building or property will prohibit unpermitted large gatherings and authorize a law enforcement officer to reasonably request individuals to move or leave if any person is sitting or standing in the public right-of-way, near a building or on the property without consent. A penalty to the property owners would be issued if they fail to prohibit the large gathering whereby law enforcement will issue a First Warning; if law enforcement responds to 2 or more large gatherings at a property, building or public right-of-way, and the owner will be subject to a $500.00 civil penalty.

The bill also initially drafted to penalized the individuals involved with these incidents but was later amended by the Finance Committee in removing such responsibility, instead making it the sole responsibility of the property owner.

The exception to this bill was Special Events pursuant to Chapter 191, which would be “individuals exercising First Amendment rights of the United States and the Florida Constitution, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the right of assembly; and any bona fide athletic event, government-sanctioned activity or any other event where COVID-19 precautions are implemented and enforced.”

Before the Council submitted its’ the final vote during the February council meeting, Council Member Becton took the floor and stated the following during the council’s final discussion on the proposed legislation:

“To my colleague as the bill sponsor from District 8, unfortunately, unlike Finance and Rules, our debate in NCSPHS over 3 weeks ago, lacked clarity and context to its true intention due to minimal discussion and debate which seemed to be absent. It was only during those recent Finance and Rules meetings that I now understand and recognize that this bill is not about protecting individuals from Covid-19 but on passing a LAW penalizing business and commercial property owners for actions that are of No or Little Control by those property owners.

As a fellow District Council member, I respect my colleague’s issue that some gatherings of individuals are causing a nuisance among your constituents as complaints of loitering and safety are of concern but this solution is a misdirected LAW that will affect all commercial property owners across our city at the expense of what would amount to isolated incidents.

As a commercial property owner, myself, right now there could be a large gartering of 50+ party going on at my property while I sit here tonight that I do not know about. It could be that my location has been chosen by any group, without my knowledge or ability to even know, and I ask “What am I supposed to do?” Yes, if the police were to contact me, I would give them the authority to force everyone to leave or issue a “No-Trespassing” citation. They can also enforce “No Loitering” Laws already on the books too.

But to pass a LAW to make me or any other commercial property owner the problem is totally unreasonable. To excuse the participates who are on my property and call them victims is disingenuous. So, I ask again, “What am I supposed to do if a group of individuals make my commercial property their gathering place tonight? How am I responsible?

As a result of such responsibility, are we going to require every business to build a fence around their property so that we look like a military zone across our city? Do we have to litter every commercial property with No Loitering and No Trespassing signage too?

For my colleagues that calls themselves advocates for small businesses and property rights, I would like to emphasis that this is a LAW not a resolution that will have many unintended consequences at the expense of those small businesses which will include fine assessments where fines have no place being.

I simply say that this LAW for which we have before us tonight is not the answer and it is my hope that we will find a better solution elsewhere that does not violate our business community’s constitutional and property rights by passing this Anti-Small Business bill which if passed would become LAW tonight.”

Bill 2020-759 passed 14-5, Council Member Becton, Boylan, Dennis, Diamond, and Ferraro voting ‘No’ for the legislation.

By Tiziana Onstead, District 11 Executive Council Assistant