Boynton Beach City commissioners are set to vote on adopting a civil rights ordinance that would would establish that the city opposes discrimination based on race, nationality, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity, among factors. But the city could have been voting on the wrong issue had it not been for Rand Hoch of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
The readings leading up to tonight's meeting, Hoch tells New Times, city staffers had confused the civil rights ordinance with an Equal Benefits Ordinance.
"The [backup for the agenda of] proposed civil rights ordinance said that the ordinance itself would require any entities doing business with The City of Boynton Beach to prove that they provide the same non-discrimination and domestic partnership provisions within there organizations," Hoch says. "There is not a single true statement in that sentence."
The mistake was significant because the civil rights ordinance doesn't require any entity to actually provide benefits.
Hoch points out that since the incorrect backup was has been read twice, Mayor Jerry Taylor was prepared to vote against the ordinance.
"The ordinance is a statement of the City's public policy that discrimination is prohibited under various local, federal and state laws, and directs people to the appropriate laws should they seek relief," Hoch added.
Hoch, Florida's first openly gay judge, and president of PBCHRC, shared a video with New Times of a Boynton Beach City Commissioner's meeting from February 17 when Mayor Taylor read from the incorrect agenda.
At the 2:33 mark, Taylor begins to read the incorrect backup. Hoch can be seen in the orange shirt in the lower right corner.
Hoch had been sending emails to the city pointing out their error, and had not heard back up until Monday morning, the same day the vote is set to take place.
City AttorneyJim Cherof explained to Hoch in the email that the incorrect cover sheet had been mistakenly rolled over for the commission's second reading in the agenda process. Since Hoch pointed out the mistake, revisions have been made, Cherof says.
"The Civil Rights Ordinance covers everyone living and doing business in Boynton Beach," Hoch explained. "It's basically a comprehensive statement of public policy that says the City doesn't tolerate discrimination and it directs people to the laws where they can seek enforcement."
Hoch and the PBCHRC have been pushing the city to move toward ordinances that made things equal for all. Hoch founded the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council in 1988 and has served as the group's president since 2006. Last year saw Boynton Beach extending benefits to city employees with domestic partners or same-sex spouses.
In 2014, when same-sex marriage was meeting an abundance of resistance from folks like Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Gov. Rick Scott, Hoch predicted that marriage equality would come to Florida by 2016.
But Hoch knew that it was only a legal matter that would be addressed by understanding that a same-sex ban was unconstitutional.
"As a lawyer who closely follows this issue in federal courts across America," Hoch said at the time. "I feel comfortable in predicting that before the end of June, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down all laws across the nation which prevent lesbians and gay men from marrying their partners."
Of course, he was off by a year and six months. The same-sex ban in Florida was lifted in January 2015.
The good news is, there appears to be enough support on the Boynton Beach city commission to pass and equal benefits ordinance," Hoch says of tonight's vote.
Tonight's Boynton Beach City Commissioner's meeting had been slated for Tuesday evening, but was moved because the legislative session is set to open in Tallahassee on Tuesday.
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