Tech Data, HSN, Raymond James-backed LGBT bill takes historic step

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By Margie Manning

A legislative initiative designed to boost the competitiveness of Florida companies has taken a historic first step in the state senate.

The Florida Competitive Workforce Act — a bill that would prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations — will get a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 26.

While the bill has been introduced in the legislature in the past, it’s the first time the measure has been heard by legislators, according to a press release from Equality Florida Institute, a civil rights organization.

The bill has the backing of hundreds of Florida companies, including nine Fortune 500 firms and more than 400 small businesses, said Patrick Slevin, campaign manager for Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce Act. The coalition includes Tech Data Corp. (NASDAQ: TECD), C1 Bank, Carlton Fields, DTCC, HSN (NASDAQ; HSNI), Raymond James Financial (NYSE: RJF), the St. Petersburg Greater Chamber of Commerce and the University of South Florida Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity.

“They’re all saying the same thing — in order for us to be competitive, we have to be able to get the best talent. Having this law passed enables us to compete in a global market,” Slevin said.

The measure also is key to attracting entrepreneurs and companies to Florida. “When the governor is out there trying to recruit new companies to relocate to Florida, this is an issue that’s part of the decision-making process,” Slevin said.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is among the co-sponsors of the Senate bill. An identical bill in the Florida House has several local co-sponsors but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Similar legislation has failed to advance in every session since at least 2011. Opponents have argued it could force some business owners to violate their religious beliefs.