Anti-discrimination bill proposed at state level includes LGBT

You can now marry whomever you want wherever you are in the country. But in Florida, you can still get fired from your job for your sexual orientation or gender identity; there's no law that prevents it.

Two lawmakers, a Republican and a Democrat, hope to change that with the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. Such bills have been filed in the state numerous times in the past, to no avail in Florida's conservative-dominated legislature, but that's not deterring State Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) and State Sen. Joe Abruzzo (D-Boynton Beach) from giving equality in the workplace another shot.

After all, multiple municipalities have such policies in place, including Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties as well as St. Pete and Tampa.

Because it's not likely many of their colleagues in the majority would be receptive to the bill on the basis of compassion or human rights or fairness, Abruzzo and Raschein framed the issue in economic terms in an Equality Florida media release.

“In order to remain economically competitive in a global marketplace, Florida must provide an environment that is welcoming to all. Recruiting and retaining talent regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity will only serve to enhance our reputation and augment our economic viability,” Abruzzo said.

For those that don't want to take the bill's sponsors' word for it, a coalition of large businesses, Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, also came out in support of the measure, which will be considered (we hope) in the 2016 legislative session, on Tuesday. The group notes that the vast majority — 84 percent — of the country's largest companies have anti-discrimination policies that apply to all, including LGBT employees. Expanding such a policy to all Florida businesses would help the state attract and retain top talent, they added.

“Business leaders across Florida applaud Sen. Abruzzo and Rep. Raschein for filing this fundamental piece of legislation that will signal Florida as an inclusive state where success is determined by hard work, and not held back by legally sanctioned discrimination,” said coalition president Patrick Geraghty, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Florida Blue in a written statement.

The economic argument may seem sound, but we're not exactly optimistic that an overwhelming majority of GOP legislators will see it that way, especially given how many of them interpreted what seemed like a no-brainer, the issue of Medicaid expansion.

Signifying the likely battle such a bill could face to even get a committee hearing next session (not to mention a floor vote) is the fact that conservative lawmakers have filed a bill aimed at "protecting" members of the clergy from performing gay weddings if they think their religion forbids gay marriage (or whatever excuse they have for opposing gay marriage).

From the News Service of Florida:

Under the proposal, clergy members, churches and religious organizations would not be required to perform marriages or provide related services "if such an action would cause the church, organization, or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief of the entity or individual." The proposal would provide a shield from criminal or civil liability and also would provide protections for religious organizations' tax exemptions, government contracts, grants and licenses. 

The House version of the bill was filed this week.

When the Senate version was filed last month, we explained why the bill is wholly unnecessary and created out of hate and rage over the recent Supreme Court decision on allowing gays to marry in every state.

Nadine Smith of Equality Florida called the bill out, according to NSF.

"This bill is a real insult to LGBT families,'' Smith said. "What it does is it implies that pastors need protection from LGBT Floridians."

While she finds that bill offensive, and is aware there's a number of intolerant lawmakers, she told CL in June that she's cautiously optimistic an anti-discrimination bill that's inclusive of LGBT employees would pass.

“We have the votes in Tallahassee to pass a statewide nondiscrimination law,” she said. “The question is, will leadership allow there to be a vote? People have to speak up...We shouldn’t be sending the message to tourists, come to Florida, it’s a great place to visit,” said Smith, “but make sure you’re in one of the handful of counties that has legal protections for you and your family.”