Workforce protections bill postponed after tie vote

By : Jamie Hyman
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The Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which would prohibit discrimination against LGBTs in the workplace, is postponed to the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee’s Feb. 9 meeting after initially failing on a tie vote.

It was the first time the bill, which has been filed and refiled every Legislative session since 2007, made it before a committee.

The committee members set a time to vote on the bill after two hours of debate during their Feb. 8 meeting. Most of the time was spent on debate among the committee members, and between those lawmakers and Florida Sen. Joe Abruzzo (D-Palm Beach), who filed the bill.

“The premise of the bill is to make sure we accommodate someone who is gay in the workplace,” Abruzzo told the committee. “In the state of Florida, employers could say, ‘We are not going to hire you because you are gay.’ That is legal.”

Equality Florida’s Carlos Guillermo Smith and Gina Duncan also discussed the bill with the committee, assisting Abruzzo in answering some of the committee member’s questions.

Sen. David Simmons (R-Longwood) submitted extensive amendments clarifying the bill’s scope and intent, and removing the language regarding “the perception of,” as it applies to gender identity and expression.

That amendment was adopted following limited public comment. Dozens of supporting and opposing speakers requested to testify, but it was cut short due to time constraints. Eventually, the committee chair asked each speaker to simply state whether they oppose or support the bill.

When the committee members voted on the bill itself, it was a tie, which means the bill failed. However, Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), who kicked off the committee discussion with concerns that the protections would pave the way for biological males to use women’s restrooms and locker rooms, made a motion reconsider. That resulted in the bill being postponed to the committee’s Feb. 9 meeting.

The Florida Competitive Workforce Act would protect LGBT people against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

In early 2014, nearly a dozen of Florida’s top employers joined forces to push for the passage of the bill by launching the Florida Business Coalition for a Competitive Workforce. Once the 2015 bill was introduced, Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce hired a group of bipartisan political campaigners to lead the initiative, but it still only went as far as the Florida House subcommittees before dying.

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