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Despite stalling this year, hopes remain for Florida Competitive Workforce Act in 2016

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Despite the Legislature failing this year to advance statewide discrimination protections for employment, housing, and public accommodations, equality for Florida’s workforce is more popular than ever.

With the early dismissal of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act did not advance during the recently ended 2015 Florida legislative session.

However, the number of businesses and people backing the measure continue to reach new heights, giving supporters hope for a solid comeback when lawmakers reconvene in January 2016.

Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce — over 30 major Florida employers, 400 local businesses and more than 15,000 residents — pushed for passage of the act this year. The bipartisan measure was included in House Bill 33 from Republican state Rep. Holly Raschein of Key Largo and Senate Bill 156 from Democratic state Sen. Joe Abruzzo of Boynton Beach. Each sought to update Florida’s anti-discrimination law, creating uniformity across the state and helping attract and keep employees.

During its time in the Capitol, both bills managed to secure 31 House co-sponsors and four in the Senate, more than a third Republicans.

“While we did not achieve our goal of passing the Competitive Workforce Act this year,” said coalition spokesperson Christina Johnson, “we are thrilled with the tremendous progress made in gaining support for the anti-discrimination measure.”

While it is illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status, gay and transgender people do not enjoy similar statewide non-discrimination protections.

Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce promoted the act, which they believe gives the state a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.

According to Johnson, discrimination significantly impacts Florida’s economy, with nearly $360 million lost each year in productivity and employee turnover through discriminatory practices. In addition, more than 328,000 LGBT workers in the state are subject to ongoing employment discrimination.

So far, 32 leading employers have joined Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, including eight Fortune 500 companies: Wells Fargo, Disney, Tech Data, NextEra Energy, Marriott, CSX, Office Depot and Darden. Twenty-five Fortune 1000 companies based in Florida now prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, while 14 of them also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

“As we look ahead to the 2016 Florida legislative session,” Johnson added, “we will continue to secure even more Florida businesses in the months ahead who agree that discrimination of any kind must not be tolerated.”

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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