North Port set to have final vote on HRO

By : Jeremy Williams
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The North Port City Commission will now meet and take the FINAL vote on a Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) Oct. 27 at 5:00pm. according to Equality Florida. The County clerk verified the meeting change due to needing a sufficient amount of time to advertise the final vote. A special session has been called for Oct. 27 specifically to vote on the HRO, says the county clerk office. 

North Port, Fla. – The North Port City Commission will hold the final discussion and vote for a citywide Human Rights Ordinance Oct. 26.

The HRO, which would ban discrimination against employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, held its first vote Oct. 13 when the commission unanimously voted 5-0 to move it to a final discussion.

“Today we had a number of people show up in red shirts to visibly tell the commissioners that there is significant support in the community for this,” says Ken Shelin, an Equality Florida board member. “These people should show up again at the next meeting to make sure no one backslides on the city commission and that they continue to support it; unanimously by the way, that’s unbelievable.”

Shelin, who is also a former Vice-Mayor of Sarasota, brought the issue of an HRO up to North Port mayor Rhonda DiFranco, who then brought it before the City Commission.

“Local cities and counties tend to recognize these needs faster than the state and national legislatures,” Shelin says. “They tend to be able to act faster as well. Since we have had difficulty in the Congress and in the Florida Legislature we have been going to cities and counties in Florida to get them to pass Human Rights Ordinances, and we have been successful so now 56 percent of the state’s population is covered by Human Rights Ordinances. That’s amazing since the state can’t even get it out of the committee.”

Shelin spoke to the City Commission before they voted on the HRO, giving an empowering speech on the importance of bringing this ordinance to North Port right away, an urgency that is severely lacking in higher government.

“We have failed at both the national and state levels to provide anti-discrimination protections,” Shelin said to the City Commission. “Introduction of a bill in the upcoming session of the Florida Legislature doesn’t mean it will pass. It hasn’t gotten out of committee for six years. Similarly the same thing has been happening in the US Congress for even longer. Obstructionism! But local county and city governments recognize that diversity and recognition are keys to creativity and successful communities. We’re talking about human rights; we’re not talking about the zoning code or the land development rules. LGBT people are being denied of their constitutionally guaranteed rights now and need relief now.”

The City Commission also heard from SunCoast MCC’s new interim pastor, Rev. Gina Durbin.

“We are talking about human rights,” Durbin said. “We are citizens of the United States, we pay are taxes, we work, we support your businesses in North Port. We do all the things that any other citizen of the United States of America who loves this country does on a daily basis. We should have the same rights and not be discriminated against in any way, in any form, anymore.”

The City Commission discussed on the amount of employees should have in order for this ordinance to apply. As it is currently written, the HRO would affect any business with five or more employees.

“I have talked with businesses and a lobby group,” Commissioner Cheryl Cook brought up in discussion about the employee number. Cook asked if the number of employees on the ordinance could be changed from five to 10.

“Why is it even a number?” Vice-Mayor Jacqueline Moore questioned. “Whether it’s a one-person business that would be treating a customer a certain way or an employer with one to however many why would we want to put a limit?”

Mayor DiFranco noted that further discussion will be had on the HRO and the businesses it will and will not affect at the final reading of the ordinance.

Commissioner Tom Jones asked if he could say something addressing those in attendance.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” Jones said. “And it has finally come.”

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