A proposal to boost anti-discrimination laws in Florida is beginning see unprecedented bipartisan backing in the Legislature, as a growing number of state lawmakers are voicing support for the measure.
The Florida Competitive Workforce Act is making its way through the Capitol in the form of House Bill 33 by Republican state Rep. Holly Raschein of Key Largo and Senate Bill 156 by Democratic state Sen. Joe Abruzzo of Boynton Beach.
The Act would add gay, lesbian and transgender Floridians to the list of groups protected from discrimination, such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap and marital status. The bill seeks to create uniformity across the state, as a way to help attract and retain employees.
Both sponsors weighed in on why they consider the legislation significant.
“It’s good for business,” said Raschein. “It’s good for recruiting the best and the brightest to Florida. We want to make sure Florida is as friendly as possible to all people.”
Abruzzo says the act would help the Sunshine State remain economically competitive in a global marketplace.
“Florida must provide an environment that is welcoming to all,” he said. “Recruiting and retaining talent regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity will only serve to enhance our reputation and augment our economic viability.”
More than 275 Florida employers have so far thrown their weight behind the act, which seeks to give the state a competitive advantage in the evolving modern marketplace.
Nevertheless, beyond that of the business community, the list bill co-sponsors is growing.
HB 33 now has support of 25 co-sponsors in the House, and SB 156 has two co-sponsors in the Senate.
It is illegal in Florida to discriminate for employment, housing and public accommodations because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status. However, the gay and transgender community has no statewide non-discrimination protections.
In a statement, many of the co-sponsors explained why they put their names on the Act.
Republican state Rep. Bill Hager of Delray Beach says, “House Bill 33 will clarify workplace protections and create a uniform standard across our state. Passing the Competitive Workforce Act will benefit employers and the workforce, in addition to continuing Florida’s trend of business success.”
Fort Myers Republican state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen added, “Passing this bill will benefit Florida’s business community and its employees. Providing fairness in the workplace ensures that Florida’s business climate will continue to shine in a competitive global economy.”
State Rep. Mike Miller, a Republican from Winter Park, believes the Act will create a stronger workforce in Florida.
“Passing consistent standards across the state will guarantee we are able to draw on the creativity and expertise of all our residents,” he says, “in order to drive our state’s business success.”
Sarasota Republican state Rep. Ray Pilon says the Act will “eliminate business inefficiencies” and improve economic growth.
“Implementing protections against all forms of discrimination is the right choice for employees, employers, businesses and our state,” he adds.
“For me this is not a gay rights issue, this is a business issue,” says state Rep. Patrick Joseph Rooney, a West Palm Beach Republican. “It’s good for Florida and its businesses to say if you want to be a part of our state and work here, being gay will not be a motive to hire or fire someone.”
Democratic state Rep. Clovis Watson of Alachua, one of the counties that already offer protections for gay and transgender individuals, says that millions more Floridians live in areas where such protections do not exist.
“Passing the Competitive Workforce Act will create consistency and fairness for employers and employees across the state,” he said. “It is the right thing to do!”