It’s been 10 years since the Florida Workplace Competitive Act was first introduced into the state legislature. Since then it’s received one committee hearing in 2015 despite attracting more and more co-sponsors each year.
In early April, Equality Florida, the bill’s main supporter, announced FWCA had achieved a record level of support with 73 legislators backing the bill, including many Republicans.
“Floridians across party lines and across the state strongly support equal rights, and we are confident that this legislation would pass if leadership allowed a floor vote,” said Equality Florida Public Policy Director Jon Harris Maurer, in a press release. “Governor DeSantis, Speaker Oliva, and President Galvano must let the state follow the will of Floridians and join the twenty other states that have these LGBTQ protections in housing, employment, and public accommodations.”
Except that’s not what happened. Instead, this year’s bill fared no better than most of the other years, not even receiving a committee hearing.
It’s that lack of legislative progress that prompted SAVE and Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, among others, to try a different approach: introducing a limited non-discrimination bill focused only on employment — the Florida Inclusion Workforce Act. And they found a big name to sponsor their bill – State Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), a Trump-supporting Republican, who also happens to be the chair of the Republican Party of Florida.
Since the Florida legislature and governor’s mansion are controlled by Republicans, it made sense to them to recruit a conservative to lead the charge for equality.
Almost immediately though the new bill faced a fierce backlash from progressives and Equality Florida. They attacked the bill, saying it was anti-trans and would set the LGBT rights movement back in Florida. It didn’t take long before the religious right also weighed in on the bill, blasting it and Gruters.
“If passed, this bill will be used as a weapon to punish Christians for simply acting out their faith as small businessmen or private individuals,” John Stemberger, president of the anti-LGBT Florida Family Policy Council, said in a prepared statement. “No state Republican Party chairman in the history of America has ever supported a bill this dangerous and irresponsible. Gruters is totally out of step with the base of the GOP, state legislative leadership, Governor DeSantis’ agenda, the Republican President of the United States and even the most recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion on similar statutes.”
Stemberger called for Gruters’ resignation as the chair of the Party. Meanwhile, FFPC did not even bother to address the Florida Workplace Competitive Act with a press release even though that bill would have gone much further protecting LGBT people by including housing and public accommodations.
Florida Politics publisher Peter Schorsch summed up FCWA like this.
“The Florida Competes coalition, led by Equality Florida, was a bust. Instead of settling for a good compromise bill, they went ‘all or nothing’ and lost, so workplace protections for LGBT+ workers will have to wait yet another year,” Schorsch wrote in his recap of this year’s legislative session. “Don’t blame Joe Gruters’ Florida Inclusive Workforce Act (SB 438), which would have been a win, no matter how you cut it. Half a loaf is better than no loaf, but progressives who want to throw self-serving bombs — and fundraise off it — don’t help the cause.”
Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, sounded hopeful months ago when FWCA was introduced, going so far as to say Gov. Ron DeSantis might sign the bill.
“He has done some things […to] surprise people. We should not write him off,” she said at the time. She also pointed out that the LGBT movement has been making progress in “deep red territory” in Florida in places like Jacksonville and Kissimmee.
But now that the bill is dead she is blaming the Republican leadership in the legislature, saying: “The Florida Competitive Workforce Act continues to draw strong bipartisan support. The bill which would simply add sexual orientation and gender identity to state civil rights law was one of the most cosponsored bills this session yet leadership refused to allow a hearing Speaker Olivia started session by saying that debate should lean on the strength of arguments but instead leadership has silenced the scores of legislators supporting this bill, the business and faith communities backing this this bill, and the millions of Floridians who support comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.
And according to Florida Politics, Gruters “took tremendous heat filing the bill. Right now, the Sarasota Republican doesn’t sound anxious to take up the bill again.”
Gruters told Florida Politics: “But the good news is the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the bill.” He’s referring to the case that SCOTUS recently took up that will consider whether Title IX protections prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. If they rule in favor it would take care of the workplace protections.