A coalition of bipartisan lawmakers and businesses call for stronger protections for LGBTQ Floridians

State Rep. Holly Raschein, a Monroe County Republican, talks about her support for the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.

A group of bipartisan Florida lawmakers say momentum is building for legislation that would extend anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ residents in the state.

House and Senate members have refiled bills (HB 161, SB 206) to create the Florida Competitive Workforce Act in the 2020 session, which begins in January. The measure would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ residents in employment, housing and public accommodations.

The current anti-discrimination law is only based on race, sex, religion, age, national origin, handicap, pregnancy or marital status.

“We all agree that discrimination is wrong,” said Rep. Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican who is sponsoring the House bill. “This bill is about nothing more than protecting LGBT people from being fired form their jobs, denied housing or denied services just because of who they are or who they love.”

“As lawmakers of Florida, we owe it to all Floridians to send a message of inclusion and fairness,” said state Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Pinellas County Democrat who is sponsoring the Senate measure.

Earlier this year, similar legislation drew sponsorship from 74 House and Senate members. But despite support from a majority of the 120-member Legislature, the bills were not heard in any committee in the 2019 session.

The decision to hear the bills is up to committee chairmen in each chamber. And decisions to advance or block legislation reflect the conservative leadership in the Republican-led Legislature.

The new House bill has already attracted support from a half-dozen GOP lawmakers. And Toledo says the anti-discrimination measure is in line with conservative values.

“As a proud conservative, standing up against discrimination is natural because we value individual freedom, hard work and opportunity for all,” she said. “Protecting LGBT people from discrimination isn’t a red or blue issue, it’s a human issue.”

Another force behind the Competitive Workforce Act is a large business coalition that argues expanding Florida’s anti-discrimination law will improve the state’s ability to attract new workers and businesses. The coalition includes major businesses such as AT&T, Marriott, Walt Disney World and Wells Fargo.

“Florida must protect all its residents from discrimination in employment and in their community in order for the economy to prosper in our state,” said John Tonnison, an executive vice president with Tech Data, a major technology company. Tonnison is the head of the business coalition, which is known as Florida Competes.

Some 20 states have laws protecting LGBTQ residents, while Florida is one of 30 without those protections.

In the absence of action by the Legislature, 12 Florida counties and 30 cities have passed local anti-discrimination measures protecting LGBTQ residents.

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