|Competitive Workforce Bill may be introduced in early 2010 |
|By BOB KECSEMETY, South Florida Blade |
NOV. 12, 2009
The Florida Competitive Workforce Bill adds the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression” to Florida’s current civil rights law that bans discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. Creators of the bill are encouraging members and friends of the gay community to sign their online petition showing support.
Many cities, counties and private companies throughout Florida already have policies prohibiting anti-gay and identity-based discrimination but the state of Florida, itself, does not have such restrictions. On the national level, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has a good chance of passage and may become law before the Florida legislature adjourns next year. Florida gay rights organizers are hoping momentum from previous attempts will ensure Florida’s GLBT community receives protections, whether the national bill passes or not.
“I don’t think many people understand the kind of discrimination that gay men, lesbians, and especially transgendered people face,” said Rand Hoch, President of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. "The more we make elected officials aware, the more they will understand the need for this bill.
"The good thing about this year is that everyone in the GLBT and allied community is working together -- and working early," said Hoch. "Our unity says a lot"
Along with the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, other organizations that are working to put this bill together are Organizations United Together, Equality Florida, the ACLU of Florida's LGBT Advocacy Project and the Anti-Defamation League.
There are two bills going through the process. The initial bill, the “Competitive Workforce Bill,” adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression” to current civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. Hoch said this bill is currently in the draft stages awaiting a bill number; it should be assigned within two weeks.
The second bill is in the very early drafting stages and will be more comprehensive. The same coalition of civil rights activist organizations along with the disability community are working on this second bill. This bill brings in a wider range of civil rights issues according to Hoch and information should take several more weeks to be released.
The Competitive Workforce Bill will be presented to the state legislature this upcoming session that begins in early spring.
“We have two committed bill sponsors,” stated Mallory Wells, Public Policy Director for Equality Florida, “Representative Kelly Skidmore from West Palm Beach and Senator Dan Gelber from Miami Beach. ”
The bill must also be placed on the calendar and assigned to committees in both Houses. Last year the bill was assigned to the Senate Commerce Committee, which voted 7 to 1 in favor of the bill. However, according to Hoch, the bill never went into committee in the State House of Representatives because they were busy with the State’s economic issues.
“I think we have a great shot at a hearing this year,” said Wells. “Senator Gelber is the vice chair of the committee that the bill has been referred to and he’s such a strong advocate, and somebody who’s really going to push to have this bill heard.”
To sign the petition, go to www.eqfl.org/competitiveworkforce.