LGBTQ advocates say proposed law threatens civil rights protections

Just when advocates for a statewide LGBTQ civil-rights appear to have more support than ever — including from a growing number of Republicans — another bill in the Florida Legislature is threatening to eliminate anti-discrimination measures already enacted by cities and counties.

“The language that has been introduced would sunset every single human rights ordinance that now covers 60 percent of the state’s LGBTQ population,” said Joe Saunders, senior political director of Equality Florida and a former legislator. “What is absolutely clear to us is that, if this bill passes, it will be devastating to the protections provided by local government to the LGBTQ community” — including those in Orlando and Orange and Osceola counties.

On its face, House Bill 3 would preempt local governments from imposing new regulations on businesses and sunset all local ordinances that currently impose such regulations, including those that ban discrimination.

“Businesses operating in our state can potentially face hundreds of unique regulatory schemes,” said Rep. Michael Grant, a Port Charlotte Republican and business owner, explaining why he sponsored the bill. Grant said Key West’s recent ban on the sale of sunscreens containing ingredients known to damage coral reefs is one of the drivers of the legislation, though he acknowledged that, should his bill pass, it will have more far-reaching implications.

At the same time, Equality Florida and Florida Competes — a coalition of 450 businesses, including Disney, Darden, AT&T and Florida Blue — say they have record support for another bill, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1992 Florida Civil Rights Act banning discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap or marital status.”

For 10 years running, the Competitive Workforce Act has been introduced by an increasing number of sponsors.

In this year’s session, which begins Tuesday, the workforce act’s twin bills in the House and Senate have among the most sponsors of any single piece of Legislation — nearly 60 by late last week, including 10 Republicans.

In the House, it even has a Republican primary sponsor, Jackie Toledo of Tampa.

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