June 1, 2003 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular News Bill expands AG’s civil rights power Associate EditorAttorney General Charlie Crist would welcome expanded power to investigate and take civil action against civil rights discrimination, if a bill revived during the special session becomes law.“I think this is very important, significant legislation that really brings Florida into the modern era,” Crist said of SB-46A sponsored by Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, and Rep. Jeffrey Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral, both lawyers who chair the Judiciary Committee in their respective chambers.Crist sited several high-profile cases — Thai Tony, a South Florida restaurant that only added automatic tips to the checks of African-American patrons, Adams Mark hotel chain that discriminated against African American guests, and the Perry package store that sent a visiting black Maryland legislator to the back room to have a drink — as cases that brought to light the need for a change in law.Currently, under Florida law, Crist explained, intimidation and coercion are the standards of proof. With the proposed bill, the federal standard of proving a “pattern or practice of discrimination” would be the new standard in Florida.“The issue is, if there is a civil rights violation, we ought to be able to bring it as a civil rights violation,” Crist said.Although the Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights has taken action for violations involving disability rights, mortgage lending, other types of economic discrimination, discrimination in places of public accommodations, racial profiling, and elder exploitation, most of those actions have had to be pursued under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, rather than the Florida Civil Rights Act.Only one of nine cases in recent years resulting in successful settlements was actually brought under the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Act, according to the attorney general, and even that case was supported by a concurrent claim under FDUPTA.Currently, there is no formal mechanism or statutory authority within the Florida Commission on Human Relations, between the FCHR and the Attorney General’s Office, or within the Office of the Attorney General to independently investigate or initiate action under the Florida Civil Rights Act for “discrimination that is based on a pattern or practice of discrimination or discrimination that raises either an issue of great public interest,” according to the Senate Judiciary staff analysis.Crist brought Villalobos the bill to sponsor because, as the senator said, “They’ve had to go the long way around the building” to take on civil rights cases.But the Christian Coalition of Florida, Eagle Forum, and Liberty Counsel are opposing the bill, fearing it could expose them to liability for their family values views.“We have gone over this with our legal counsel and found that this has the potential of gagging Biblical free speech,” said Carolyn Kunkle, deputy director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, who said the other two groups join in opposing the bill.Kunkle said she believes the bill would give the attorney general “unprecedented power” to use strongarm tactics against groups that do not welcome certain groups of people, specifically homosexuals.“A religious day care center could refuse to hire a cross-dresser,” Kunkle said. “Or a religious college could refuse to allow cross-dressing men to live in a dorm, because the religious institution doesn’t believe in that lifestyle.”That could open those institutions up to costly liability, she said.Kunkle said an “odd result” of this bill would be to encourage religious groups to be more specific in drafting policies that reject all individuals who do not share their beliefs.“Faith is not being exclusive, but inclusive,” Kunkle said. “We as a traditional family group don’t agree with the homosexual lifestyle. At the same time, we are not haters. We still care about them. And we believe God can touch and mend.”Crist responded: “No group, really, should be threatened by this that believes in fundamental fairness to all citizens of our state.”Villalobos believes the top law enforcement officer in the state should have the power to reach out and initiate civil rights cases when there is a pattern of discrimination.“I have seen discrimination and the effects it can have on a person firsthand,” said Villalobos. “No person should be denied the basic rights inherent to each individual.”Even as recently as 1985, while a law student in Tallahassee, Villalobos said, he was shocked when a black friend questioned whether a restaurant would allow him to dine and have drinks because of his race.A dozen years ago, the mother of his daughter’s best friend was fired from her job at a bank because she was pregnant.“Things like that still happen,” Villalobos said. “I think we have the responsibility in this state to say that certain behavior is totally unacceptable. No. 1, it’s immoral. No. 2, it’s just economically stupid,” referring to Florida’s tourism industry that cannot thrive if all people are not treated equally with respect.“As a member of the Bar, I think attorneys sometimes get the reputation that they are in it for themselves. I think attorneys have a greater responsibility to the legal profession than making money — to ensure that justice is carried out. That is the image the public needs to see of attorneys,” Villalobos said.“This is obviously something that the Bar ought to recognize, that ugly remnants of the past still haunt us, and it’s something we need to get rid of. And we need to make sure the courts ensure that we don’t have this ugliness from the past raise its head.”Though a citizen has a right to file an action alleging discrimination, Villalobos said, “The problem is that most of the time the citizens we are talking about are poor or single moms or just have no resources. It’s very difficult to take on a multimillion-dollar corporation when you are at the poverty level.”The bill amends the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 and provides that this act may be cited as the “Dr. Marvin Davies Florida Civil Rights Act,” named after the longtime civil rights figure and the NAACP’ s Florida director from 1963-72 who died in April.The bill would give the attorney general independent authority to initiate upon reasonable cause a civil action for damages, injunctive relief, and civil penalties up to $10,000 per violation, against any person or group for “patterns or practices of discrimination” or “for discrimination that raises an issue of great public interest.”The bill provides that a respondent may request a hearing at which the court shall determine whether the complaint on its face makes “a prima facie showing that a pattern or practice of discrimination exists.”The prevailing party would be entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs and any damage recovered would accrue to the injured party.On the last day of the regular session, the clock killed the bill, Villalobos explained.“We had the prohibition against discrimination based on pregnancy, and the House didn’t want to take it up,” Villalobos said.“Although I think it’s important, I don’t want it to be all or nothing.”The new legislation, on second reading in the Senate as this News went to press , does not include the pregnancy discrimination issue, but Villalobos said, “I will attempt in the future to get that done also.” Bill expands AG’s civil rights power
The Undergraduate Student Government Senate voted 12-0 Tuesday in favor of the resolution to implement free menstrual products in gender-neutral and women’s restrooms across both the University Park and the Health Science Campuses. The USG Senate unanimously passed the free menstrual product resolution during Tuesday night’s meeting and voted on the additional staffers for the upcoming USG elections next month. Catherine Liang | Daily Trojan.The final draft of the resolution was authored by USG Director of Community and External Affairs Mai Mizuno, Senator Debbie Lee and Director of Wellness Affairs Marina Hrovat.Hrovat spoke on the addition of the Health Science Campus to the resolution, which was previously not in the initial draft proposed at the Jan. 16 meeting. “We felt like if these products are being provided on this campus, there is no reason they shouldn’t be provided on the Health Science Campus,” Hrovat said.The final draft of the resolution also included a statistic regarding the mental health effects of menstruation. Mizuno, who launched this initiative last spring, noted this as justification for the resolution’s passage.“Eighty six percent of menstruating individuals start their period unexpectedly in public without the supplies they need,” Mizuno said. “This does disrupt students and how they go about their everyday lives on campus.”With the resolution’s passing, discussion has shifted from the formation of the resolution to its implementation. According to Mizuno, Hrovat is currently in charge of finalizing a vendor to supply the menstrual products.“Marina will look at what is the best option for us, from a budget perspective and from a quality perspective,” Mizuno said. “We want to provide students with the best possible menstrual products.”Mizuno said that granting access to free menstrual products in restrooms is not only a women’s issue, modifying the language of the proposal to promote inclusivity.“I really emphasized, in the language, ‘menstruating individuals,’” Mizuno said. “It’s not just women that menstruate but folks that identify as male or non-binary that can also really benefit from this initiative.”Mizuno stressed the longevity of this initiative — which has been in the works since last spring — and the unsung people who were instrumental in the progression of this initiative since last spring.“Previous students, senators and senate aides should be acknowledged,” Mizuno said. “It is really the work that multiple people had put in prior to its introduction in the senate. Most advocacy initiatives usually take years.”The USG senate suspended Robert’s rules the second time this semester, allowing it to deviate from standard parliamentary procedures. The Senate used this suspension in order to push a vote up by one week. The Senate unanimously approved of three additional interns and 14 commissioners to staff the upcoming USG elections.