Tampa voters could get say in proposed changes to discrimination law

Published August 2 2018
Updated August 2 2018

TAMPA — Tampa voters may face a series of questions on the city’s March election ballot that could fundamentally change how Tampa treats discrimination issues.

By unanimous vote, City Council members gave initial approval Thursday to proposed changes to the City Charter, which had not been reviewed since its adoption in 1975.

Many of the changes suggested by the City Charter review commission aim to streamline archaic and redundant language. But they would also expand the city’s discrimination ban to cover more categories, including sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, disabilities, marital and family status.

The current charter only prohibits discrimination against an individual or group based on race, sex, religion or natural origin.

Although most of these rights are granted under a combination of federal, state and the city’s Human Rights Ordinance, commission member Ron Christaldi said the charter would add an extra layer of protection.

"Over time, federal and state laws may change or become less protective," Christaldi said. "But if the charter passes, it would maintain the rights of the residents of Tampa."

If council members give final approval on Aug. 23, the proposed changes would still be subject to review and possible veto by Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Buckhorn, who is on vacation this week, could not be reached for comment.

In May, Buckhorn told council members he didn’t think the charter needed major fixes. Buckhorn’s spokeswoman, Ashley Bauman, said those feelings are unchanged.

If the proposed changes do make it the ballot, voters would get the final decision March 5.

In other action Thursday, the council unanimously approved a measure that puts a temporary halt to the private development of submerged land.

The move is one step in a larger effort by the council to end private dredging and filling for residential development.

It comes after the council voted in June to kill a proposal to fill part of Tampa Bay adjacent to the Courtney Campbell Causeway to create land for expensive homes.

At issue was land bought by a New York development group about a decade ago. The group wanted to fill open water off North Rocky Point Drive to build 16 town homes.

Immediately after the vote, council member Charlie Miranda made a motion to ask that the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission consider an amendment to explicitly ban dredge and fill projects for residential development. The city’s comprehensive plan currently lacks such language.

Commission planner David Hey said the change could be ready for council consideration in about six months. The council vote on Thursday bans the practice until then.

There are no pending requests, said Bob McDonaugh, Tampa’s administrator of economic opportunity.

Currently, private developers can submit a request to develop on submerged land, which undergoes a staff review and recommendation before the planning commission and City Council take it up.

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