BY LAURA D. FRANCIS
Staff Writer, Government Employee Relations - a BNA Publication
December 1, 2009
Florida Rep. Kelly Skidmore (D) Nov. 20 filed a bill (HB 391) that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
The bill, known as the Competitive Workforce Act, defines ‘‘sexual orientation’’ as ‘‘an individual’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, or isexuality,’’ and defines ‘‘gender identity or expression’’ as ‘‘a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.’’
It applies to all employers of 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
‘‘I am proud to be the sponsor of this very important legislation,’’ Skidmore said. ‘‘I look forward to working with OUT, Save Dade, the Palm Beach County Hu,man Rights Council and other organizations and individuals in Florida who believe that discrimination is wrong and ought to be illegal,’’ she added.
Bill Introduced Previously.
Skidmore has introduced previous incarnations of the measure, including one during a special legislative session in October 2007. That bill included sexual orientation but not gender identity discrimination, which was added last year, according to Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
The bill was praised Nov. 20 in a statement by the OUT Advocacy Network, part of Organizations United Together (OUT), ‘‘a federation of local lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender and allied organizations dedicatedto achieving equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians.’’ PBCHRC is a member of OUT.
‘‘OUT strongly supports passage of antidiscrimination legislation, and we will work with local advocacy organizations throughout the state to build support for the law at the local level, district by district,’’ Executive Director Ted Howard said in the statement.
Hoch told BNA Nov. 24 that ‘‘it’s an interesting strategy we have this year’’ for securing passage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender anti-discrimination legislation. He noted that historically LGBT activities only have been able to secure
the support of Democrats, which represent the minority in the Florida Legislature.
However, he said, a ‘‘comprehensive bill’’ currently is in the works that would, in addition to prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination,
redefine ‘‘public accommodation’’ in line with federal law—which currently cover more establishments than state law—so that businesses can defend actions before
state administrative agencies rather than in federal court.
That bill also would amend the language of Florida’s fair housing statute to match that of the federal Fair Housing Act, allowing the state to retain $2 million in
federal funding that could be withdrawn without such a change, Hoch said.
‘‘We understand that discrimination is a problem and needs a solution,’’ but that defending against charges should be ‘‘easier and more affordable,’’ he added, noting
that he believes these provisions will garner the additional support of both the business community and the disability community.
Howard added that the anti-discrimination bill last year ‘‘has a record number of sponsors,’’ and ‘‘we hope to increase the number of sponsors this year.’’
Hoch said that the legislative session runs between March and May, giving his and other organizations time to educate legislators and the public about why a statutory
change is necessary. ‘‘It is not illegal in most parts of Florida to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and a lot of people do not know that," he said.
Whether or not HB 391 moves forward ‘‘really depends on what else is going on in the legislature,’’ Hoch told BNA. Because of the short legislative session, other
measures may be given priority, such as last year, when state budget problems took center stage, he said.
‘‘This year, we have reason to hope for improved chance for progress on the bill,’’ Howard added.