Bipartisan legislators back gay-discrimination bill

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Bipartisan legislators back gay-discrimination bill

State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, speaks at a news conference with state Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, on Tuesday regarding their "competitive workforce act" legislation. Photo by Bill Cotterell.

A bipartisan group of legislators said Tuesday that forbidding job discrimination against lesbian and gay Floridians would be good for business.

"The simple truth in Florida today is that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people can be fired for who they are," said Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, at a news conference in front of the Capitol's House chamber. "Protecting LGBT Floridians from discrimination isn't a new idea and it isn't new policy."

He said cities and counties have adopted 26 local ordinances during the past 30 years "to do what our state government would not."

State Reps. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, and Dave Hood, R-Daytona Beach Shores, joined Saunders and state Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, in voicing support for the proposed "competitive workforce act" (HB 239 and SB 348). Saunders said a poll by the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service showed 73 percent public support for banning employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

"I believe this bill would pass on the floor, if it were to get there today," Saunders said. "The challenge that we have is the challenge of having the conversation: the conversation of having equal opportunity and protection."

The anti-discrimination bill has been introduced in the Legislature for about 10 years without movement. But Saunders said supporters are optimistic about passing it in 2014 because six Republicans have joined 20 Democrats who sponsored the measure in this year's legislative session.

Rather than arguing civil rights, proponents of the bill are putting it in terms conservative Republicans like: job growth and productivity.

"Protecting Florida's work force from all forms of discrimination will help to draw the best and brightest to our state," Raschein said. "This is the direction that Florida needs to go, if we want to remain a viable state."

Abruzzo said 84 percent of large corporations have nondiscrimination hiring policies.

"Florida needs to be a place that attracts top talent," Abruzzo said. "We should not allow legal discrimination against qualified employees in the state of Florida."

Hood said, "It's very simple: We ought to do what's right."

Gina Duncan, a board member of the advocacy group Equality Florida, said, "Corporate America is good with this bill." She said employers want uniformity in employment regulations from one county to another, and employees want to know they are all being treated equally.


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