LGBT Workforce Discrimination Ban On Slow Track

By Margie Menzel

A powerful state senator proved prescient Tuesday when he warned that it would take time to pass a ban on discrimination in jobs and housing based on sexual orientation.

“This is not going to be an immediate process,” Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said at a news conference. “It’s going to take awhile. … But I think those people who have signed on have signed on for the long haul, to work on this until it gets done.”

The bill (SB 120), filed by Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, is known as the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. It would update the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 to add protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the workplace, public housing and other public accommodations.

“This is an issue that’s been on my heart and mind for a long time,” said Latvala, who has served in the Senate for 14 years. “I don’t support discrimination in any way shape or form for anyone.”

The bill was on the agenda for the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday shortly after the news conference. But it did not get a hearing. After lengthy discussions of other controversial bills, committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, postponed Abruzzo’s proposal until next week.

“I think we are in a very favorable position for a final vote,” Abruzzo said afterward, adding that the postponement was due to the bill’s order on the agenda.

The bill, however, faces opposition from social conservatives such as members of the Florida Family Policy Council. That group’s website lists Abruzzo’s proposal as one of the “bad bills” of the 2016 legislative session.

“This bill creates a new cause of action to sue employers and small businesses for discrimination by those in the LGBT community,” the website says.

But the measure has support from major businesses such as Florida Blue, AT&T, Walt Disney World, CSX Transportation, Tech Data Corporation, Darden Restaurants, NextEra Energy, Office Depot, Home Shopping Network, Marriott and Wells Fargo.

The corporations say they lose $362 million a year in productivity due to the lack of LGBT protections.

They held the press conference to tout the proposal’s first committee hearing — after the issue has kicked around the Capitol for roughly a decade.

“Workforce goes where it’s welcome,” Bob O’Malley of CSX said at the press conference. “And entrepreneurs go where they’re welcome.”

John Tonnison of Tech Data, a Fortune 500 company, said the protections would put Florida in a better position to compete globally.

“A progressive level of equality and inclusion will absolutely resonate with the talents and the kinds of investments that are the nature of the tech industry, which are fundamentally very open-minded and diverse by nature,” Tonnison said.

But while the bill could be heard in the Senate committee, the House companion (HB 45), filed by Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, has not appeared on a committee agenda.

Raschein, however, said she is committed to the issue.

“It sends a message to people in the nation and the world that Florida is open, and we’re ready to do business with you,” she said.

Latvala, who said the measure could take years to pass, compared it to a 2013 measure providing in-state tuition to the children of immigrants, which passed in its 11th year before the Legislature.