Florida gay rights bill won’t advance after Senate stalemate

Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee.

Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — It took a decade for Florida‘s Republican-dominated Legislature to even listen to a bill to give LGBT people civil rights protections. When it finally did, the legislation was dead on arrival.

What little hope gay rights advocates had that an anti-discrimination bill would move forward withered this week when the Senate Judiciary Committee remained deadlocked on the measure a day after voting 5-5 on the bill.

A procedural measure kept the bill technically alive, but its sponsor and other supporters know there’s almost no chance the issue can be revived this year.

“We are going to prepare and strategize to keep the fight alive and going next year,” said Democratic Sen. Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington. “We will have a different Senate when we come back.”

The fact that the bill (SB 120) was even heard was a big step for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates.

“What we’ve seen here is a debate that hasn’t been seen up to this point. This is a positive first step. We have Republicans who are coming and fighting for this issue,” said Patrick Slevin, campaign manager for a coalition of businesses pushing for the anti-discrimination law.

Although there are signs that some Republican attitudes are changing on gay rights — two Republicans voted for the bill in the Judiciary Committee and Republican Rep. Holly Raschein is sponsoring the House version of the bill (HB 45) along with nine GOP co-sponsors — it took only five Republicans to stop it from advancing.

On Tuesday, Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner pleaded for the Republican opponents to advance the bill, saying that the issue was too big to be decided by one committee.

“Let the full Senate get the opportunity to hear debate and to make this decision. This is the time to step up and do what I consider is just and right,” she said. “Some fights need to be at the 40-person level on the floor of the Florida Senate, and this is one of those. Too often we shut the door too soon and not allow all of us to be heard.”

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