Bill requiring equality in housing, employment goes to state House panel Monday

The time has come for change in Florida, say supporters of adding sexual orientation and identity to a state non-discrimination bill.

The first-ever hearing before a Florida Legislature committee on adding "sexual orientation and gender identity or expression" to state law will be heard at 1:30 p.m. Monday in Tallahassee.

State Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) sponsors the Florida House version of the bill. There are 30 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle (editorial, 4A).

"We expect there to be full house there Monday" for the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Carlos Guillermo Smith, government affairs manager for the Equality Florida group.

A version of the sexual nondiscrimination bill has been filed with the Florida Legislature "in one form or another for the better part of a decade," Smith said. Raschein filed one last year but it died before the House recessed early due to battles over health-care funding.

"This will be the first time it gets to a hearing," he said. "It's an indication that not only is Florida ready for  this change, and has been ready, but that state [legislative] leaders are indicating they may be ready to move forward."

The Florida Competitive Workforce Act would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing and public spaces.

"It ought to be law," Raschein said of an earlier bill. "It's just adding LGBT people into the protected class as reasons you can't be fired or kicked out of your home."

The bill has been endorsed by the Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce group, consisting of "nine Fortune 500 companies, 28 major employers and more than 400 local businesses."

"Florida must provide an environment that is welcoming to all," Florida Senate sponsor Joe Abruzzo (D-Boynton Beach) said in a statement. "Overwhelmingly, our nation's largest companies have endorsed the Competitive Workforce Act because it's good for business and because it's the right thing to do."