As this year’s session of the Florida state legislature gets underway today, state lawmakers will consider two bills that could have serious impact on the LGBTQ community in the Sunshine state.
The Florida Competitive Workforce Act (CWA) would amend the 1992 Florida Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes from discrimination.
The CWA has been introduced for ten years with an ever-increasing number of sponsors.
This year, the legislation has almost 60 sponsors – including 10 Republicans. In fact, the primary sponsor for the bill in the state House is Republican Jackie Toledo of Orlando.
A coalition of 450 businesses in the state including Disney, Darden and AT&T, support the passage of CWA.
“If the Florida Legislature is looking to recruit businesses like Amazon — at no cost to the taxpayer — all they have to do is pass a law that says LGBTQ people will be treated fairly and equally in our state in employment, housing and public accommodations,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) told the Orlando Sentinel. “Other states already have this. It’s not a social experiment.”
Currently, 20 states have comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights protections.
Joe Saunders, senior political director for Equality Florida, says “It’s our belief that if the Florida Competitive Workforce Act were sent to the floor today, it would pass both chambers.”
UPDATE @TransEquality, @QLatinx, @TransActionFL, and Florida Trans Proud have joined @HRC, @TheTaskForce, @NCLRights, @ACLUFL, and @equalityfl to reaffirm their support for the Florida Competitive Workforce Act (FCWA)!
— Equality Florida (@equalityfl) January 25, 2019
However, Rep. Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte) has sponsored another bill – House Bill 3 – which would preempt local governments from imposing new regulations on businesses and sunset all local ordinances that currently impose such regulations, including those that ban discrimination.
In other words, HB 3 would wipe out all local ordinances that protect LGBTQs from discrimination. In the absence of a statewide law, local ordinances currently protect gays in only 60% of the state.
Grant insists his legislation comes as a result of a recently enacted Key West ordinance which bans the sale of sunscreens that contain ingredients known to harm coral reefs.
It's the coral reefs he's protecting. Riiiiiiight.
“What is absolutely clear to us is that, if this bill passes, it will be devastating to the protections provided by local government to the LGBTQ community,” says Saunders.
In this context, it becomes clear why the CWA is so important. It would finally create statewide protections for LGBTQs.
In past years, the CWA hasn’t even made it out of committee. The Sentinel notes that most years, it wasn’t even assigned to a committee which demonstrates how key power players in the state legislature opposed the bill.
It will come as no surprise that the anti-LGBT Florida Family Policy Council strenuously opposes passage of the CWA.
President and general counsel for FFPC, John Stemberger, says the CWA will create “a new lawsuit which can be used as a weapon by disgruntled employees to sue employers, claiming they were fired because of the very fluid and subjective notions of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
He also says the statewide protections would allow for lawsuits that “punish creative professionals who decline to design or create a custom product which communicates a message which they disagree with or which conflicts with their religious convictions.”
That’s not exactly true, though.
The CWA already contains language that makes exceptions for “constitutionally protected free exercise of religion.”
If you want an example of how a positive or negative civil rights environment attracts or repels business, take a look at North Carolina.
When the Tar Heel state passed its 2016 law that allowed for LGBTQ discrimination, the NCAA and the NBA All-Star Game canceled on the state, as did corporations looking to bring new businesses to the area.
Experts estimate the economic impact to North Carolina was $3.76 billion according to the Associate Press.