JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The five-year debate over adding legal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to Jacksonville's city code appears to be nearing an end.
The City Council's Finance Committee on Wednesday voted 4-3 for an ordinance expanding Jacksonville's Human Right's Ordinance to include LGBT protections -- the third and final committee stop before the bill is considered by the full council next Tuesday.
Across the three committees, 10 different councilmen voted for the proposal, which both proponents and opponents of the controversial measure said means the measure, which extends existing city protections barring discrimination in employment and housing for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, should pass the 19-member Council.
The Rules Committee passed the ordinance as written 6-1 on Tuesday after the committee defeated a proposal to put the issue on the ballot in a referendum.
On Monday, Neighborhood, Community Investments and Services Committee approved a version of the bill amended to expand the exception for small businesses from those who employ 15 to companies of up to 50 employees.
The full council could tweak the language before voting on a final bill, including the size of the specifics of the small business exemption and
Councilman Aaron Bowman, who introduced the HRO measure this time around, is pleased.
"Right now, we got the votes, and it looks like its going to be a long discussion,' Bowman said. "There will be some amendments put out on Tuesday. I feel very good where we are right now."
Councilman Bill Gulliford, who plans on voting against the bill, said the protections will hurt religious groups and he isn't giving up.
"Right now, I would say they got the votes," Gulliford said. "I don’t think they would have introduced it unless the pretty well figured they had the votes."
Others who have fought the bill admit it going to be tough to stop it from passing City Council, but they may try a different tactic to derail the LGBT protections.
"Those who are opposed are committed to a referendum, one way or the other," said Raymond Johnson. "We will do everything in our power to put this on the ballot and defeat this."
Two weeks ago, about 1,000 people showed up for a marathon City Council meeting that had to stretch into a second day to allow everyone to be heard. A large crowd is also expected next Tuesday for the final vote.