Florida Business Coalition for a Competitive Workforce forms to pass state’s workplace discrimination bill

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In Florida, eleven politically influential corporations—including Disney World, Wells Fargo, and the Florida Fortune 500 companies Tech Data and Darden Restaurants—have formed the Florida Business Coalition for a Competitive Workforce in support of passing HB 239, a bipartisan bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Though bills meant to do just that have been proposed since at least 2006 in the Florida state Legislature, none have gone far. Representative Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo), a sponsor of the latest bill, said the business’ support could be the push HB 239 needs to pass.

According to the Tampa Tribune, she said, “In my dozen years in this process, I’ve never seen a powerful coalition like that form.”

State Representative Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) admitted, “There’s no doubt that through the media and Hollywood they’ve made progress on swaying a lot of opinion on this…I have no doubt they’re picking up more sympathizers.”

A Christian conservative, Baxley is one of the bill’s more vocal opponents; he pointed out that even though support for gay rights is growing, it won’t be easy to pass something that has already failed so many times. He added, “Among the people that have to make the hiring and firing decisions in daily life, I think there’s still a broad discussion that has to be held.

“We’re feeling the pressure that we’re supposed to change our moral view and that’s quite a challenging dialog to have.”

The companies that came out in support of HB 239 include several known for favoring conservative causes, but their reason for promoting the anti-discrimination legislation is a simple one: it’s good for business.

The Coalition said in a statement,

The Competitive Workforce Act (HB 239/SB 348) would modernize state law to include anti- discrimination protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

The legislation, which is sponsored in the House by Representatives Joe Saunders (D-Orlando) and Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) and by Senator Joe Abruzzo (D-Wellington) in the Senate, aims to grow the economy by attracting and retaining the best workers to Florida with the promise of equal opportunity employment.

Since recruiting and retaining talent is critical to our long-term business success, Coalition members understand that Florida employers must attract qualified and diverse applicants who reflect the diverse population of the state. The link between strong anti-discrimination laws and the ability to draw the best and the brightest is the reason that 84% of the nation’s largest companies have adopted comprehensive anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity.*

The Coalition believes that the Florida Competitive Workforce Act will make Florida more competitive in the national and global marketplace in much the same way companies have benefited from adopting anti-discrimination policies. The Coalition looks forward to working with other companies, business advocates and legislative leadership to support the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.

* Of the Fortune 500 companies that have responded to the 2014 HRC Corporate Equality Index, 84% have [included]protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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