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By Ryan Ray

An industry consortium supporting a bill to prohibit discrimination against workers based on sexual orientation gathered in the Capitol Tuesday morning, ahead of its first committee stop.

Lawmakers joined with representatives of Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce in telling reporters the time for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Floridians to be considered equals in the workplace is past due.

Fortune 500 executives and super-minority Democrats alike took the podium along with original House sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Holly Raschein, who said despite opposition from the more conservative corners of the Legislature, joining dozens of municipalities in prohibiting discrimination would benefit the state “both economically and morally.”

“In order to remain economically competitive in a global marketplace, Florida must provide an environment that is welcoming to all,” said Palm Beach Democrat Sen. Joe Abruzzo. “Overwhelmingly, our nation’s largest companies have endorsed the Competitive Workforce Act because it’s good for business and because it’s the right thing to do. It affirms the importance of basic human rights.”

Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, the first Senate Republican sponsor of the bill, joined in the chorus of support, but advised caution based on the slow pace of progress in Tallahassee.

“This is not going to be an easy thing to accomplish. I think those who have signed on have signed on for the long haul,” said Latvala.

Latvala pointed to his experience carrying a bill that allows the children of undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities as an instructive example.

“It was a tough slog,” said Latvala. “Even with one of the presiding officers as a sponsor for that bill, it was still a tough slog. So I don’t expect immediate success, but I think we’ll take measured steps and get this done before I leave this place in two years.”