Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Editorial: Stop stalling on law banning bias

The Florida Legislature should stop stalling and give a full and fair hearing to legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Published Feb. 1, 2016

The Florida Legislature should stop stalling and give a full and fair hearing to legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling on same-sex marriage, passing a statewide antidiscrimination ordinance should be a smart next step. Yet in this election year, it appears too many Republican lawmakers just want the issue to go away because they fear angering businesses that support the protections or religious conservatives who oppose them.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled last week to hear SB 120, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, the bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as impermissible grounds for discrimination in employment, at businesses like hotels and restaurants, and in housing throughout Florida. Instead of taking up that bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the committee spent its entire meeting discussing a bill to protect clergy from being prosecuted for refusing to perform same-sex marriages. Nothing requires churches to perform same-sex marriages, and this was a misdirection play aimed at appeasing conservative voters in an election year while running out the clock to avoid the antidiscrimination bill.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, has said he will allow the antidiscrimination proposal to be heard. The other nine committee members, particularly senators from Tampa Bay, should hold him to it. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, should show some leadership and press for the bipartisan proposal to be introduced and moved forward. A similar House bill, HB 45, counts several Tampa Bay legislators as co-sponsors, including Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg; Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater; Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey; Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa; Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena; and Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. The Legislature has killed efforts to hear similar proposals for eight years, but the courts, local governments and public opinion have moved forward.

So far, nearly 40 Florida municipalities, including Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, have passed human rights ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is progress, but it is not enough. A state law would bring consistency to the patchwork of protections cobbled together around the state and offer protection to citizens in areas that have not yet gotten on board. Some of the loudest voices in support of this effort come from Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, a group of Fortune 500 companies and small businesses throughout the state. The group, whose members include CSX, Tech Data, Darden Restaurants and AT&T, understands the economic impact of inclusiveness. Laws that protect all of a state's citizens have a positive effect on tourism and businesses' bottom lines. It is also the right thing to do.

Last week, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee ran out the clock. Next week, they may try to change the bill so much that even its supporters will no longer want it. Those are common tactics to kill bills without leaving fingerprints, but there is no reason to avoid hearing the antidiscrimination bills or to accept that it might take years' more work to pass critical statewide protections for gay, lesbian and transgender residents. The public shouldn't have to wait any longer for state lawmakers to become comfortable with protecting the civil rights of all Floridians. Stop stalling.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Job applicants seek information about temporary positions available with the 2020 Census, during a job fair in Miami on Wednesday designed for people fifty years or older. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The state added 22,500 jobs in August.
  2. Sarah Rumschlag and her son Henry Rumschlag, 7, of St. Petersburg march during the science rally and march at Poynter Park in St. Pete. KAIJO, CHARLIE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Friday’s letters to the editor.
  3. The line for free HIV testing during the Pinellas County World AIDS Day event at Williams Park in St. Petersburg. LUKE JOHNSON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The state has mishandled the epidemic in the past, but lawmakers can get it right now. | Column
  4. The Florida Power & Light solar facility is seen in Arcadia. CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Help the markets determine winners in the renewables the Sunshine State needs. | Column
  5.  Jim Morin -- MorinToons Syndicate
  6. Noah McAdams, 3, has leukemia, and his parents didn't want to go along with the chemotherapy his doctors prescribed. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
    The state acted correctly by interceding on behalf of Noah McAdams, a 4-year-old leukemia patient.
  7. Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year. MARKUS SCHREIBER  |  AP
    The billionaire also talks trade with China in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
  8. Editorial cartoon for Thursday from Times wire services LISA BENSON  |  Washington Post Syndicate
  9. Yesterday• Opinion
    Plumes of steam drift from the cooling tower of FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio. RON SCHWANE  |  AP
    Thursday’s letters to the editor
  10. Nearly three dozen trees were cut down at a half-abandoned trailer park along Gandy Boulevard in August, enraging tree advocates and sparking another battle between the city of Tampa and a new state law that removes local government authority over tree removal. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    The Florida Legislature made it easier for residents to cut down trees without permission from local government. Now everybody wants to do it.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement