State legislators push for gay rights in the workplace
Florida House Reps. Joe Saunders and Holly Raschein are once again pushing a bill that bans discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians in the workplace.Their efforts this year jive with a move in the U.S. Senate to pass a similar law, which state supporters called "fortuitous."
Also fortuitous: In his first tweet since declaring his candidacy for governor, Democrat Charlie Crist took advantage of the opportunity to support gay rights -- “Thanks to GOP @HollyRaschein & Dem @RepJoeSaunders for their bipartisan bill to end LGBT discrimination in workforce. I’ll sign it!”
This is the second time that Saunders, D-Orlando, and Raschein, R-Key Largo, have filed an anti-discrimination measure (HB 239), with Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, sponsoring the Senate counterpart.
State legislation, Saunders said at a press conference at the capital Tuesday, would end the patchwork of gay rights ordinances in 26 municipalities, including the cities of Miami Beach and North Miami Beach and Broward, Pinellas and Monroe counties.
“Imagine living in a community where you’re protected from discrimination until you cross the county border and work in a community where you are not,” Saunders said. “Countless employees still work where placing a picture of their family on their desk can lead to legalized harassment, the denial of promotion or the unemployment line.”
Raschein said that "from the GOP perspective, our main focus is the economy and jobs. And this is what we’re talking about. People’s jobs, people’s livelihoods.”
Two Republicans, Heather Dawes Fitzenhagen, of Fort Myers and Dave Hood, of Daytona Beach Shores, joined several Democrats at the press conference, but Saunders say more support the bill -- in fact, six of the 26 other sponsors of last year's proposal were Republican. He noted that after “taking the temperature” of the chamber last session and doing the math, he left “really inspired” that the numbers were there for passing the anti-discrimination law.
“I believe that this bill would pass on the floor if it were to get there today,” he said. The challenge is “having the conversation. This conversation about equal opportunity and nondiscrimination and the importance of protections for the LGBT community has ever been had in this chamber, has never been had in the Florida House.”
The bill Saunders and Raschein introduced last year as freshman legislators never made it out of the Civil Justice Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, who leads the panel again this session. The bill was just filed Thursday and hasn’t been given its committee assignments, though Saunders’ legislative aide Carlos Smith said he expects they’ll be the same as last year.
Ryan Duffy, spokesman for Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, said that “committee chairs are responsible for setting their committee agendas” and as for the bill’s chances, he said “the speaker doesn’t call balls and strikes on bills in November.”
Still, the bill’s supporters expressed optimism in moving the legislation forward, pointing to a poll done in March 2013 by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, in conjunction with the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research, which showed that 73 percent of Floridians support a bill that would protect gay and lesbians against workplace discrimination.
“Despite having one of the largest, most visible and diverse LGBT communities in the country, Florida lags behind the 13 other states that have stepped up to protect the gay and transgender community from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations,” Saunders said.
In a press statement, supporters also said that 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation “because they know it’s good for business.”
Gina Duncan, who ran for Orange County commissioner in 2012 as an openly transgender candidate, said at Tuesday's press conference, that she worked at Wells Fargo, managing over 200 people, when she went through her transition and the company supported her.
“Corporate America is good with this bill,” said Duncan, who is on the board of Equality Florida. “Corporate America wants this bill.”