On January 27th, Equality Florida held a press conference at the Capitol to address the anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced by lawmakers and urge action on the Florida Competitive Workforce Act (HB 161 & SB 206).
One of the four anti-LGBTQ+ bills — HB 1365, which attacks trans youth — went from a hearing, to workshopping, and has now reached a standstill, as its assigned committee has no further meetings scheduled for this legislative session. With the Republican majority in both the Florida House and Senate, it’s no surprise to see harmful bills moving forward on the agenda, while the Florida Competitive Workforce Act remains idle.
“The Florida Competitive Workforce Act (FCWA) prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.” This means that in Florida, it is legal to be fired, evicted, or refused service purely because someone is a member of the LGBTQ+ community without this legislation.
Equality Florida has worked with local legislators to pass bills that now protect approximately 60% of all Floridians, but that still leaves about 8 million people susceptible to discrimination. Out of the 8 million, statistics show roughly 368,000 people may identify as LGBTQ+. That’s over a quarter of a million people who can be out of a job, a home, or a meal just because they identify with the LGBTQ+ community. 368,000 people have been failed by their government.
Let’s look at the history of the Florida Competitive Workforce Act. The FCWA was first introduced as a bill in 2009 by Representative Kelly Skidmore and Senator Ted Deutch. A year later, it had its first legislative workshop in the Senate Commerce Committee. It wouldn’t be until six years later, in 2016, when the Senate Judiciary Committee gave the bill its first hearing. However, the bill was deemed unfavorable with 5 yeas and 5 nays. The House version of the bill died shortly after it’s first hearing in the Economic Affairs Committee. In 2017 and 2018, the House and Senate versions of the Florida Competitive Workforce Act were postponed indefinitely and withdrawn from consideration for that legislative session. We cannot let this happen again this year.
As of today, there has been no further action of HB 161 and SB 206 this session other than the filing of the bills. No committees have scheduled hearings, despite wide support from not only legislators, but Floridians themselves. The FCWA is the most co-sponsored bill of this session with support from 56 Democrats and Republicans. In the words of Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, “You have the votes. Hear the bill.”
Speaker of the House, Jose Oliva, recently commented on the inaction of HB 161, deeming it unnecessary because discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community is “unlikely.” However, in a study published by the Florida Public Health Review an alarming 81% of participants reported the presence of LGBTQ+ verbal slurs in the workplace and 40% reported physical harassment or bullying. And those are only percentages for the workplace. Discrimination against LGBTQ people in Florida is not up for debate.
Speaker Oliva has the influence to get this bill on the agenda and the lack of inaction on the FCWA can be traced back to him.. The LGBTQ+ community in Florida has a right to be protected by law, but Speaker Oliva doesn’t seem to think so. Let’s remind him. Here is his contact information. Send him letters and voicemails, let him know we will not tolerate his inaction, or we will make it “unlikely” that he gets to keep his seat.
There is no other excuse for the bill’s standstill other than the fact the Florida Legislature truly doesn’t care about the lives of their queer constituents. The anti-LGBTQ+ bills seem to be moving fast down the chain of command, but a bill that has been around for eleven years isn’t even scheduled to be heard. It’s been referred to Florida’s Judiciary Committee, Civil Justice Subcommittee, and the Business & Professions Subcommittee. The first step to getting this bill passed is getting a committee to hear it.
I urge Floridians and Florida lawmakers to make Congress aware that its inaction is intolerable. The votes are there, all we need is a hearing. This is an example of the government failing its people, and we will not let them get away with it.
There are only two weeks left of this legislative session. If no action is put on these bills, the LGBTQ+ community may have to wait another year for protections they deserved a long time ago. #HearTheBills
Use this link to find your district’s representative and let them know that you personally want this bill to be heard.
Here are the links to the committees and their Chairmen: