2 Council Panels Approve Human Rights Expansion; CHANGES 'Gender Expression' Removed, Legal Remedies Limited UP NEXT Bill Expected to Be Heard by Full Council Next Week

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Byline: Timothy J. Gibbons

Two Jacksonville City Council committees narrowly approved expanding the city's human rights ordinance to include sexual orientation as a protected class on Monday, after first changing the measure to remove some of its teeth.

Before passing it Monday morning, the Rules Committee voted 5-2 to remove "gender expression" from the ordinance and limit the legal remedies available to anyone alleging discrimination under the law. The Public Health and Safety Committee signed off on the same changes on a 5-1 vote in the afternoon.

The bill is expected to be heard by the full council next week.

Councilman Warren Jones, the bill's sponsor, said taking out "gender expression" made sense because the phrase was too vague for some council members. Opponents of the measure said it would open the door to protecting cross dressing and unprofessional attire.

Limiting penalties also seemed designed to mollify members who were concerned about the impact on businesses if people could sue under the expanded ordinance. With the change, those alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are only able to go for voluntary mediation with the employer, public place or lodging they're accusing.

The city's Human Rights Commission still will have investigatory powers, director Charlene Taylor Hill said, but will not be able to compel the accused to attend any meetings.

Without attending the hearing, though, a company won't have an opportunity to clear its name, said an attorney asked to speak by Councilman Don Redman.

Several dozen people - split about 60-40 against the ordinance - filled the council chambers before the Rules vote, although they were not allowed to address council about the issue. Fewer people were at the afternoon meeting, although there was more participation because council members asked some people to address the committee.

In Rules, Lori Boyer, John Crescimbeni, Jim Love and Jones voted for the amended bill. Ray Holt, Robin Lumb and Clay Yarborough voted against it.

In Public Health and Safety, Greg Anderson joined Crescimbeni, Jones and Love in favor. Redman, Kimberly Daniels and Matt Schellenberg voted no. …