2016 Equality Florida Legislative Insider Report


2016 Equality Florida Legislative Insider Report

The 2016 legislative session was a rollercoaster ride. We made history with the first hearings on an LGBT nondiscrimination law ever in the South. And we narrowly averted the disasters that have engulfed Georgia and North Carolina by blocking or neutralizing anti-LGBT legislation.

Now that session is officially over, we’re sending you this insider recap for each of Equality Florida’s legislative priorities. Thanks to your countless phone calls and emails to lawmakers, trips to Tallahassee and public testimony, we defeated anti-LGBT legislation, neutralized the unnecessary and divisive ‘Pastor Protection’ bill, and made significant progress on two pro-equality bills that move Florida in the right direction.


As always, Equality Florida was on the front lines during the entire 60-day session. Our annual Lobby Days held January 25th & 26th was a huge success. In another sign of the growing bipartisan support for LGBT equality, House Republican Majority Leader Dana Young (R- Tampa) hosted our Lobby Days luncheon in the Majority Office and announced her support for the Florida Competitive Workforce Act!

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Afterwards our citizen lobbyists took the capitol by storm, meeting with dozens of lawmakers to discuss Equality Florida’s legislative priorities, recruit co-sponsors, and tell their personal stories. Overall, 2016 Lobby Days was a huge success thanks to those who committed the time and the resources to travel many hours to Tallahassee and make a real difference in our work.


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Florida Competitive Workforce Act,
SB 120 by Abruzzo (D- Wellington) &
HB 45 by Raschein (R- Key Largo)

The 2016 legislative session marked the first time a Southern legislature has taken up a bill that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Special recognition is due to Senate Judiciary Chair Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R- Miami) for his leadership. He cleared hurdles to make sure his committee heard the bill on two occasions. He also joined Senator David Simmons (R - Longwood) as one of two Republicans on the committee who supported the measure.


The bill failed in a 5-5 tie. Opposition to the bill was lead by Senators Jeff Brandes (R- St. Petersburg), Lizbeth Benacquisto (R- Fort Myers), Kelli Stargel (R- Lakeland), and Wilton Simpson R- New Port Richey) who appealed to irrational fears and invoked the same bathroom arguments fueling discrimination in North Carolina and dehumanizing transgender people in particular. Click here for final vote count. In the House, Economic Affairs Chair Jose Oliva (R- Hialeah) refused to hear the bill despite leadership having assigned it only two committees to demonstrate their willingness for the bill to move forward.

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INSIDER REPORT: While we were unable to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act this year, we made progress by expanding our bipartisan coalition to include allies that will help pass this bill in 2017. But even with all of the gains we have made, our community is still vulnerable to discrimination. The real and urgent need to protect Floridians from the devastating effects of anti-LGBT bias is always a top priority Equality Florida. And lawmakers who oppose this legislation will find themselves on the wrong side of history as we continue our work to move this bill forward until it becomes the law in Florida.


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Churches or Religious Organizations,
SB 110 by Bean (R- Jacksonville) &
HB 43 by Plakon (R- Longwood)

We called this bill the Trojan Horse because of the potential for it to be amended in dangerous ways. Georgia legislators proved us correct in that assessment when they turned a similar bill into a vehicle to legalize discrimination. For months, a pro-equality coalition of faith leaders and everyday citizens voiced their concerns about this bill, telling legislators it could become a vehicle for even worse anti-LGBT legislation - as we've seen in other states.

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INSIDER’S REPORT: After long negotiations between the bill sponsors and Equality Florida, we were able to raise enough concerns about the legislation that the sponsors agreed to oppose efforts to expand the scope of the bill and they accepted our amendments narrowing the existing language.

The final version simply reaffirms religious freedoms already protected in current state law and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution -- that is the right of pastors and churches to decide who they will and won’t marry. That freedom is guaranteed in the Constitution and that’s the way it should be. While we continue to believe this bill to be unnecessary, we worked with the sponsors to ensure it would no longer present a danger to LGBT families.

Thanks to this grand compromise, Florida did NOT go down the path of North Carolina or Georgia, where an expanded pastor protection bill passed allowing LGBT people and others to be refused goods and services. Doing so has since created a severe backlash, as several large companies and employers are threatening to leave the state if the bill is signed into law. Republican co-sponsor for HB 43, Julio Gonzalez (R- Venice), even went as far as to publicly thank Equality Florida on the floor of the House of Representatives for working with lawmakers in good faith to narrow and clarify the legislation.

While the changes did not go far enough for Equality Florida to support the bill, we along with a handful of other organizations that also opposed the bill agreed to withdraw our opposition to HB 43/SB 110 and take a neutral position”


Religious Refusal,
HB 401 by Gonzalez (R- Venice)


Equality Florida began a public education and media campaign to block this sweeping anti-LGBT legislation before session began. HB 401 would have allowed for-profit companies, day-care centers, and adoption agencies the right to refuse goods and services to LGBT Floridians, women, even interfaith and interracial couples. Further, it would allow hospitals, physicians, nurses, and pharmacists the right to refuse medical care or prescription drugs because of personal or religious objections.

INSIDER’S REPORT: By the time session arrived, no Senate sponsor filed a companion to the House bill, which made passage unlikely as HB 401 failed to get a hearing in the House. We need to stay vigilant to ensure this bill does not return in 2017.


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SB 1542 by Soto (D- Orlando)
HB 1151 by Richardson (D- Miami Beach)


This important legislation updates Florida parentage laws to comply with the historic Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. It reaffirms the legal right of married same-sex parents to an accurate birth certificate for their child listing both spouses as parents.

INSIDER’S REPORT: House sponsor Representative David Richardson, Florida’s only openly-gay state lawmaker, successfully got HB 1151 through its first committee stop in the Health Quality subcommittee with a unanimous vote! Click here for final vote count. Unfortunately, time ran out during session and the bill never made it to the House floor. Watch Rep. Richardson and Carlos Guillermo Smith discuss the bill on WJHG-TV.


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Domestic Partnerships,
SB 1666 by Sobel (D- Hollywood)
HB 1275 by Jenne (D- Hollywood)


‘Domestic Partnerships’ creates a statewide domestic partnership registry offering a defined set of legal rights and protections to unmarried couples (both same-sex and opposite-sex) who participate. Rights and protections offered in the legislation include: advanced health care and end-of-life decisions; facility visitation; emergency notification; joint property, estate and inheritance; funeral and burial; and wrongful death. Neither bill was given a hearing in 2016.


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FL Health Adolescents Act,
SB 1056 by Bullard (D- Cutler Bay) &
HB 859 by Fullwood (D- Jacksonville)


The Florida Health Adolescents Act would protect Florida’s teens by requiring that public schools that choose to teach about sexually transmitted infections, family planning or pregnancy provide comprehensive, LGBT-inclusive, medically-accurate and age-appropriate factual information, including information about abstinence. 2016 was the first year this bill was introduced, but no hearings were scheduled.


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Conversion Therapy,
SB 258 by Clemens (D- Lake Worth) &
HB 137 by Richardson (D- Miami Beach)


Conversion Therapy would prohibit therapists from administering dangerous “ex-gay” or “conversion” therapy to minors in Florida. Neither bill was given a hearing in 2016.


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SB 512 by Soto (D- Orlando) &
HB 4019 by Williams (D- Tallahassee)


This legislation is a symbolic repeal of Florida’s law banning same-sex marriage recently declared unconstitutional by the Florida and United States Supreme Court. Neither bill was given a hearing in 2016.


Termination of Pregnancies,
SB 1722 by Stargel (R- Lakeland) &
HB 1411 by Burton (R- Lakeland) 


SB 1722/HB 1411 is an omnibus bill that mandates medically unnecessary regulations for abortion providers with the end goal of forcing them to close their doors. The legislation also defunds organizations like Planned Parenthood from being eligible for any federal or state funding for pre-cancer screenings, birth control, and preventative care. Equality Florida is a pro-choice organization which understands the strong connection between LGBT and reproductive rights, and we proudly stood with our pro-choice allies in opposition to this bill.

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As you can see, there is so much unfinished business left to do in Tallahassee to ensure fairness and equality for LGBT Floridians. We really moved the ball forward thanks to your help. Your support of Equality Florida keeps us on the front lines in Tallahassee to ensure our community will always have an advocate in the hallways of the Capitol.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.



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