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Although Florida’s legislature adjourned April 28, 2015, without passing the state’s much-discussed Competitive Workforce Act, hopes remain high for its advancement in the upcoming legislative session.
The bipartisan proposal would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The Florida Competitive Workforce Act (FCWA) would accomplish this by amending Chapter 760 of the state statutes, which currently prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status, to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.
Companion bills were under discussion in both the state House and Senate. H.B. 33 was introduced by a Republican representative from Key Largo while S.B. 156 was introduced by a Democratic senator from Boynton Beach. The sponsors sought to create statewide uniformity in worker protections as well as to help companies attract and keep employees.
The House bill managed to secure 31 co-sponsors and the Senate measure was cosponsored by four senators. More than a third of the co-sponsors were Republicans.
The measures also enjoyed the support of much of the business community. Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce – a coalition of more than 30 major Florida employers, 300 local businesses and over 15,000 residents – formed last year to urge passage of the legislation.
Coalition members include eight Fortune 500 companies – Wells Fargo, Disney, Tech Data, NextEra Energy, Marriott, CSX, Office Depot and Darden. The coalition believes that the FCWA will make Florida more competitive in the national and global marketplace in much the same way companies have benefitted from adopting anti-discrimination policies.At least 25 Fortune 1000 companies based in Florida now prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation; 14 of those also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
The coalition sent a letter April 9 to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli urging them to support the legislation.
Discrimination significantly impacts Florida’s economy, according to Christina Johnson, a coalition spokeswoman. Nearly $360 million in productivity is lost each year due to discriminatory practices and resulting employee turnover, she said.
“As we look ahead to the 2016 Florida legislative session,” Johnson added, “we will continue to secure even more Florida businesses who agree that discrimination of any kind must not be tolerated.”
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