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Florida LGBT Rights Bills in Housing, Employment, Bathrooms Gain GOP Supporters

Supporters celebrate the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in Panama City, Fla., on June 26, 2015. (Patti Blake/News Herald via AP, File)

Some Republican legislators are starting to move toward LGBTQ rights legislation the Florida Family Policy Council has dubbed “the worst bill in the Florida Legislature.”

However, Matt Carpenter, deputy director of State and Local Affairs for the Family Research Council, told PJM that while conservatives should be on high alert, they have nothing to worry about.

“Similar legislation failed last session, and that was because Floridians were divided on this issue,” Carpenter said. “The last election demonstrated that voters expect their elected officials to pursue more basic priorities instead of mandates that ignore the very real privacy concerns of women and children.”

The Florida Legislature’s current session opened March 7. As it did, a Republican House member, Rep. Rene Plasencia, was one of three co-sponsors of HB 623 and its companion legislation SB 666, “Florida’s Competitive Workforce Act.”

The Florida Family Policy Council website lists three proposals that made its “Bad Bills: 2017 Legislature” list.

One of the bills on the list would ban gay conversion therapy. Two Democrats, Rep David Richardson and Sen. Jeff Clemens, have sponsored HB 273 and SB 578. The FFPC said it would make it illegal for anyone in Florida, even pastors and licensed counselors, to show teens struggling with their sexual identity the benefits of living a heterosexual lifestyle.

Another would create special housing rights for LGBTQ residents of Florida, which the FFPC said would offer “a new way for those in the LGBT community to sue property owners, rental agencies, real estate firms, etc. for discrimination.” The FFPC is also afraid HB 659/SB 742 would allow men access into women’s domestic violence and homeless shelters.

Two Republicans, Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Holly Merrill Raschein, are the sponsors of the legislation.

But the worst bill offered in the legislature this session, according to the FFPC website, is Florida’s Competitive Workforce Act.

The FFPC website explains HB 623/SB 666 is at the bottom of a bad barrel “because of its effect on public safety and freedom of conscience. It adds sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to Florida’s Civil Rights Act of 1992 as impermissible grounds for discrimination. This bill provides a new way for LGBT individuals to sue employers and small businesses for discrimination. (It) would allow men access to use women’s showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms.”

Equality Florida issued a review of the 2017 legislative session in which the gay-rights group described the Florida Competitive Workforce Act as “our top priority.”

Dozens of Equality Florida-sponsored gay-rights activists were expected to lobby state lawmakers March 20 because “this bill will finally prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Floridians and will ensure that Florida is a safe place to live, work, and play for all people, including those who are LGBTQ.”

Rep. Plasencia told the Miami Herald she is sponsoring the legislation because “I believe that people should be treated equally in our country.”

“This is just another step in making sure everybody has equality,” she added. “Whether it’s in the workforce, in housing, in any aspect of our lives, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have equality.”

The Miami Herald reported that five years ago there was not a Republican name to be found on legislation that failed, which would have banned discrimination because of sexual orientation.

But this is 2017 and Plasencia is not the only Republican who has put her name on legislation banning discrimination against the Florida LGBTQ community. Fourteen other GOP legislators have signed on as co-sponsors.

Matt Carpenter said Plasencia and other Republicans moving to the left on this issue are doing so at their own peril.

“People of good will can disagree over how businesses decide which policies to enact in regard to their bathroom or changing-room policy,” Carpenter said. “One thing all conservatives agree on is that the government should not be pressuring people to adopt these sort of radical left-wing policies. Values voters are a solid part of the GOP base.”

Sen. Dana Young is one of the Republicans who is backing one of the other bills the Florida Family Policy Council has come out against, the “Competitive Workforce Act,” SB 666/HB 623.

Under this legislation, employers in Florida would no longer have the right to fire anyone because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. And businesses like restaurants and shops would have to serve LGBTQ people.

“I’m a mother of two teenage daughters with a lot of friends in the LGBT community, and I want to support not only my children but their friends and the community as a whole,” Young told the Miami Herald. “Tampa is a vibrant, urban community with a large, involved and vibrant LGBT community. I’m doing my job by representing their interests along with everyone else.”

There are still more Republicans who have gone on record as opposing these LGBT-rights proposals than are supporting the bills. The chairmen of the House and Senate committees through which these proposals will have to pass have yet to confirm the bills will even get hearings.

Carpenter said it is important that Florida Republicans remember who brought them to the dance in Tallahassee.

“If GOP politicians want to side with special interests and left-wing activists instead of the values which made America great,” Carpenter said, “then values voters may very well register their disappointment at the ballot box.”