LGBT Rights Supporters Pick Up The Pieces, Look Forward To 2017

Feb 10, 2016

Civil rights protections for the LGBT community will have to wait until at least next year.
Credit Ted Eytan via Flickr

The third time was not the charm Tuesday evening for advocates of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights measure.  Senators remained deadlocked—effectively precluding any chance of passage this session.

“Some of you may or may not know this but the next committee stop would’ve been Senator Ring’s committee and agreed to take this up this very bill up next week,” Sen. Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington) said in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday evening. 

His phrasing—“the next committee stop would’ve been Senator Ring’s”—that’s the moment this year’s LGBT civil rights measure gave up the ghost. 

“You know where we are right now we are still deadlocked,” Abruzzo explained.  “It is five-five.  I have not gotten commitments from any member on this committee that they will move off their current position so we are currently deadlocked.”

“You either have the votes or you do not have the votes,” he went on.  “And I stand in front of you, and I appreciate Senator Simmons’ motion, but we do not have the votes at the present time unless somebody speaks up.”

Technically the Florida Competitive Workforce Act—that’s what the sponsors are calling it—is just postponed, but for all intents and purposes the measure’s done.  It has a short path in the House, but speaking after the hearing, Abruzzo explained it’s unlikely to get a hearing.

“I was of this firm belief that if we moved ours they were going to start moving theirs.  They wanted to see progress from the Senate,” he said.

“Even though it’s been around for ten years, it’s come up in this committee within really the last two weeks,” Patrick Slevin says.  He’s part of Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, a business organization lobbying in favor of the bill.

“To be fair to our Republican senators,” he goes on, “they really haven’t had a chance to get a full understanding of the competitive workforce act in its entirety, so we understand when there’s some narrow perspectives that we need as a coalition to help educate.”

The Senate Judiciary committee this year has been fascinating.  Three times, committee chair Miguel Diaz De La Portilla (R-Miami) has brought up the LGBT anti-discrimination bill.  He’s also stonewalled two controversial gun measures and two immigration related bills.  He and Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) joined the panel’s Democrats in supporting the nondiscrimination measure after an amendment penned by Simmons gained approval.  

But despite efforts among supporters in the Legislature and out to pitch the bill along economic development lines, the debate—and the five remaining Republican votes—got bogged down in arguments over a different aspect of the bill.

“You know what I heard yesterday from the committee is a lot of common ground,” Sen. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) says.  “A lot of common ground on housing and employment, and what it seemed like it came down to is a few minor issues on public accommodations.”

He’s referring to an argument that came up last year—what happens with transgender men and women when it comes to bathrooms?  But LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida calls that a red herring, claiming panel members turned down an amendment carving out restrooms and locker rooms. 

Supporters say the bill’s failure could have far reaching effects.  For instance take a look at the governor’s request for a quarter billion dollars to attract new businesses.  Tech Data executive John Tonnison says the debate will undermine those efforts.

“This bill or the absence and the kind of testimony and discussion we see here I think absolutely works against the state’s brand as being a progressive leading edge state, and that in an industry like tech will be an inhibitor and a limiter.”

His business is one of the state’s largest public corporations.  “Curiously enough I sat on a governor’s committee in 2014 focused on one of his pillars for growth which is the tech industry,” Tonnison says.

For the time being, supporters plan to regroup.  Abruzzo says it will be the first bill he files for the coming session.  

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