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This month, State Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) will be watching to see if her bill banning LGBT discrimination gets out of committee, onto the agenda and becomes law. Called the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, the bill gives the same protections to the LGBT community in Florida as the Civil Rights Act of 1992 gave to Floridians no matter what their race, religion, sex, age, ability or marital status. Employment, housing and public accommodations all will be subject to its passage.

Specifically, employers with 15 or more employees will need to watch its progress since its passage will protect a new class of worker. (The cities of Venice and Sarasota already have this protection in place, which applies to any employer with five or more workers. Sarasota and Manatee counties do not have this protection.)

Similar bills (including a 2014 bill sponsored by Raschein) have been filed for 10 years, but a new advocacy group, Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, has strategically positioned the bill as one of economic development. “It sends a message across the globe that we have updated our laws. It’s important to recruitment of companies and employees,” says campaign manager Patrick Slevin. More than 400 companies, including major employers such as Florida Blue, Office Depot, AT&T, Walt Disney World, Wells Fargo, CSX and Darden Restaurants, have signed on.

If the bill becomes law, individuals who feel they have been discriminated against must first take their complaint to the state’s Commission on Human Relations, which determines whether a violation has taken place. Only then can complainants go to court and sue for compensatory and/or punitive damages.

Despite the social conservative bent of the legislature, Raschein says the time is right. “This is pro-business, pro-freedom, pro-equality,” she says.

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