Tallahassee After a 9-4 vote moved forward an anti-transgender bill that would bar people from using restrooms that align with their gender identities, audience members chanted, “Trans lives matter!” in protest.
The Civil Justice Subcommittee discussed and voted on HB 583 March 4. The votes split right along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor of the bill and Democrats voting against.
Republican State Rep. Frank Artiles of Miami, who filed the “Single-Sex Public Facilities” Bill Feb. 7, presented the bill to the committee by first indicating that it had been completely rewritten. He said the bill is a reaction to Miami Dade County’s Human Right Ordinance, which Artiles claims “allows a heterosexual male to walk into a women’s facility” and does not allow a business owner to ask that male to leave, based on the HRO’s “overbroad language” protecting the male from discrimination.
Artiles stated that his bill “simplifies and brings uniformity to entire state of Florida,” but admitted there are a laundry list of exceptions and amendments for various situations that would still need to be put into place, such as people using the wrong bathroom by accident.
“I think there will be more exemptions than are the bill,” said Kathleen Passidomo, the committee chair.
When asked if there was any rise of criminal activity in Miami Dade to demonstrate a need for this bill, Artiles said his bill is “proactive, not reactive.”
Representative Lori Berman asked the smoking gun question when it comes to the proposed bill and transgender discrimination.
“Could I sue the owner of establishment if a gender nonconforming person uses restroom at same time as me?” she asked.
“Yes,” Artiles replied.
Public comment lasted more than an hour and was split among about 40 supporters and detractors.
“On behalf of the transgender community and as a trans woman, I’m repulsed that a bill would be introduced to discriminate against transgender people just for being transgender under the smokescreen of public safety,” said Gina Duncan, Transgender Inclusion Director for Equality Florida. “For first time since I transitioned, I am afraid of being discriminated against. Is this where we want to go as a state, as a society? Is this the legacy we want to leave our children, of intolerance and open, blatant discrimination?”
Edward Labrador with Broward County questioned the need for the bill and pointed out its negative business and legal ramifications.
“Creating an action where someone is going to sue businesses, government, schools—we’re going to waste our time in court litigating on these issues. That’s not where we should be focusing our attention,” Labrador said. “This legislation is perceived as targeting transgender individuals. They are members of our community and they have rights. We don’t want to be the anti-trans state. That’s not good for our tourism.”
Of the “Yes” votes, several representatives said their support is conditional and that the bill needs a lot more work before becoming law.
“I’m going to vote in favor today,” said Passidomo. “We need to spend more time making sure unintended consequences you all are concerned about do not come about. I promise you we will work on this bill.”
Equality Florida spokesman Jim Harper said the bill still has to be approved by two more committees to get to the House floor. There is not a companion version in the Senate but there is a similar version of the bill that has not gotten any committee assignments yet.
Florida’s 2015 legislative session kicked off March 3. There are at least two other bills of LGBT interest up for consideration. The Florida Competitive Workforce Act is a statewide bill that aims at prohibiting discrimination against LGBTs in employment, housing and public accommodations. Versions have been filed in both the House and Senate, and the House version is also parked in the Civil Justice Subcommitee, but neither version has made it onto an agenda yet.
Additionally, a bill that would ban sexual orientation conversion therapy in Florida had a first reading before the Health Innovation Subcommittee March 3. Rep. David Richardson filed that bill Dec. 9.