Watermark’s 2016 Florida Legislative Tracker

By : Watermark Staff
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I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill, and I might just get poked with Rick Scott’s quill!

That’s right boys and girls, it’s that time of year again when Florida’s Congress will get together in Tallahassee to yell and scream and try to get some legislating done.

In 2015, we had a ridiculous year where we saw arguments from which public restroom transgender people should be allowed to use to how a child is better off in the system than being loved and parented by a same-sex couple, and if the Human Rights Campaign’s 2016 preview is any indication it looks like we will need to buckle up for another hellish ride through Florida’s Legislative branch.

Not all bills are bad news for the LGBT community however as several pro-equality bills are expected to make their way through committee in both the House and Senate.

Florida’s 2016 legislative session began Jan. 12, the scheduled last day of regular session is March 11.

Churches or Religious Organizations (HB 43/SB 110)

What is it: “Provides that churches or religious organizations, related organizations, or certain individuals may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for related purposes if such action would violate sincerely held religious belief; prohibits certain legal actions, penalties, or governmental sanctions against such individuals or entities.”

What it means: The bill would protect religious leaders from being forced to conduct same-sex weddings even though religious leaders are already protected from having to conduct any wedding ceremony at all, including gay ones.

Current status: The completely unneeded bill was filed by Florida Rep. Scott Plakon (R- Longwood) Aug. 10 saying, “With the trajectory of how public policy and the courts have moved on all this [marriage equality], it’s really impossible to predict what will happen next.” The bill cleared its first hurdle Oct. 7 when the Florida House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 9-4 to move it forward. It had its first reading by the Judiciary Committee Jan. 12. The House Judiciary committee voted to advance their Pastor Protection Act Feb. 4 and it was added to Second Reading Calendar. After multiple readings and adopted amendments, it was voted on and passed 82-37 March 2.

A related bill was introduced in the Senate Jan. 12. The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-3 to move forward the so-called Pastor Protection Act Jan. 26, moving it to Community Affairs Jan. 27. The bill passed Community Affairs 6-1 Feb. 9 and Feb. 12 it was added to the Rules Committee agenda. Rules will hear the bill Feb. 17 at 4:00 p.m. Feb. 17, SB110 cleared its final hurdle when the Rules Committee voted 7-3 in favor of the legislation. The bill now is headed to the full Florida Senate for a vote. Senate voted on and passed 23-15 March 3 and sent to Governor’s office.

Bill signed by Rick Scott and made law March 10.

Protection of Religious Freedom (HB 401)

What it is: “Provides immunity from liability for health care facility, health care provider, person, closely held organization, religious institution, business owned or operated by religious institution, or private child-placing agency that refuses to perform certain actions that would be contrary to religious or moral convictions or policies.”

What it means: Would allow doctors to refuse to treat gay people, adoption agencies to refuse to place children with gay couples and pretty much any business to discriminate against gay people, as long as the business owner says it’s against their religious beliefs to do business with gay people. The wording is broad enough that it would allow discrimination not only based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but for whatever reason someone would want to whether based on race, disability, religion, etc.

Current status: The bill was filed by Florida Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R- Sarasota) Oct. 21 and referred to the Civil Justice Subcommittee Oct. 30. The bill had its first reading in that committee Jan. 12. Bill never made it passed first reading and with closing of Legislative session March 11, this bill will die for 2016.

Prohibited Discrimination (HB 45/SB 120)

What it is: “Creates ‘Florida Competitive Workforce Act’; prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation & gender identity or expression; defines terms; provides exceptions for constitutionally protected free exercise of religion.”

What it means: This bill would protect LGBT people against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Current status: This bill was filed by Florida Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo), her third year doing so, and Florida Sen. Joe Abruzzo (D-Palm Beach), his second year, Aug. 11. The bill, which has been introduced in some form since 2007 only to die in committee each time, was referred to the Economic Affairs Committee and had its first reading Jan. 12. This is the first time in history Florida lawmakers will vote on the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. Extensive debate on the Churches or Religious Organizations bill left the Competitive Workforce Act without enough time to be discussed or voted upon Jan. 26.

The Senate Bill 120 was read in the Judiciary Committee Jan. 21 and will have a vote in the committee Jan. 26. The Senate Judiciary committee voted 5-5 Feb. 9 making the bill unfavorable. SB 120 was tabled Feb. 11.

Conversion Therapy (HB 137/SB 258)

What is it: “Prohibits persons licensed to provide professional counseling and various practitioners who perform counseling as part of their professional training from engaging in conversion therapy with person who is younger than specified age.”

What it means: This bill would make it illegal for a therapist, psychiatrist, counselor, etc. to enter into treatment with a minor with the intention of converting them to be “straight.”

Current status: Florida House Rep. David Richardson (Miami Beach-D) filed HB 137 Sept. 3, calling it “almost a form of child abuse, because children that have gone through this tend to have a lot more trauma later in their life in terms of that experience.” The bill was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee Sept. 24 and is now in the Health Quality Subcommittee where it had its first reading Jan. 12.

A related bill was introduced into the State Senate Jan. 12.

Neither the House or Senate bill made it passed a first reading and with the closing of the legislative session March 11, this bill will die for 2016.

Parentage (HB 1151/SB 1542)

What it is: “Revises terminology relating to parents; revises terminology relating to married couples; revises terminology relating to parents; making technical changes; revises to whom notice of hearing must be given on petition for expedited affirmation of parental status.”

What it means: This bill updates the Florida statue language to strike gender-specific wording ironing out wrinkles regarding how same-sex parents’ names appear on their children’s birth certificates.

Current Status: Another bill by Florida House Rep. David Richardson (Miami Beach-D), it was filed Jan. 6 and referred to the Health Quality Subcommittee where it had a first reading Jan. 12. HB 1151 was added to the Health Quality Subcommittee agenda Jan. 21. At that hearing it was determined that the bill needed to be amended to include “mother” and “father” along with “parent.” The bill was added back to the Health Quality Subcommittee agenda Jan. 29. The bill cleared the subcommittee Feb. 2. Referred to Appropriations Committee Feb. 8 where it has had its first reading.

A companion bill was filed in the State Senate by Sen. Darren Soto (D-Orlando) Jan. 8. SB 1542 was introduced Jan. 14 and referred to Health Policy; Judiciary; Rules.

Neither the House or Senate bill made it passed the first readings in their respective committees and with the closing of the legislative session March 11, this bill will die for 2016.

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