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By Dan Sweeney
A bill to ban employment and housing discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people has been killed in the Florida Legislature every year for half a decade. In most years, as in last year, it never even got a committee hearing in either chamber. But this year is different.
The bill will have its first hearing in tomorrow’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And on the House side, the bill has only two committees to get through, a sign of support from House leadership.
The bill received more-concrete support Monday from House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa.
“This is an issue that transcends party,” Young told a group from Equality Florida, the state’s largest gay rights organization. “I support you.”
As with most cities and counties in South Florida, Young’s hometown of Tampa already has a Human Rights Ordnance, which protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But Young pointed out that a statewide law is needed to make the practice uniform across the state.
That uniformity of equal rights has attracted the support of large companies such as Wells Fargo, AT&T and Marriott, all of which support the legislation.
Thirty-seven municipalities already have Human Rights Ordnances in Florida. If passed the new law would not supplant these. Any local law stronger than the state law would still be in force.
Despite getting its first hearing in the Senate, it still has a long road there, with four committee hearings in total. Its first committee in the House, Economic Affairs, is chaired by state Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami.
The bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, has said she has talked with Oliva about getting the bill heard.
She said Oliva “wants to hear right from the horse’s mouth” about the bill’s impact and encouraged the people in the capitol from Equality Florida to lobby him.
“I’m very hopeful we’ll achieve a hearing,” she said.