The Florida Legislature completed its first week of the 2015 session on Friday, and we are sorry to report that among its first activities, it advanced a bill that would discriminate against transgender individuals in public accommodations like bathrooms, locker rooms and other places where there is an expectation of privacy.
Reacting to the historic passage of a transgender-inclusive amendment to the important human rights ordinance in Miami-Dade county, and targeted at reversing others across the state, HB 583 makes it a crime to use a bathroom that does not coordinate with the sex on one’s birth certificate or drivers’ license. Both the bathroom user and the company that provides the public restroom can even by sued by members of the public. The bill cleared its first committee on the second day of the legislative session.
The sponsor claims this bill is necessary to make sure that men don’t rape and assault women and girls in public restrooms yet can’t provide an example where a transgender-inclusive HRO ever protected such behavior. To be clear, assault, rape, stalking and similar crimes are already illegal under Florida law, even when they happen in bathrooms, and the bill would force business owners to play “gender police,” having to investigate the gender of anyone using their facilities.
As public testimony made clear, the bill is really about preying on ugly myths and fear about transgender people and keeping trans women out of women’s bathrooms. Our government should not be institutionalizing discrimination, and instead work to pass protections our LGBT community which is already subject to violence, harassment and discrimination. We will continue to fight this bill as it advances throughout the legislative process.
Week two is just starting and so are the attacks on women’s reproductive health. On Thursday morning, the House Health Quality Committee will vote on a 24-hour mandatory delay on abortions. The bill would require a woman to make two trips to a clinic even when that would impose an undue burden on her due to time, cost, child care or employment responsibilities and more.
There is one bit of good news, though. On Tuesday morning the Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hear a bill to require a unanimous jury recommendation before imposing the death penalty. Florida is the last state in the entire country to allow a person to be sentenced to death on a simple majority vote and now is the time to make procedural changes to ensure the death penalty is rare, reserved for the worst of the worst, and only imposed when a jury is unanimous in its decision.
We also this afternoon heard news that the sponsor of a bill involving body cameras for Florida police officers has agreed to withdraw the bill and revisit the privacy and accountability language after ACLU supporters and a coalition of civil rights groups raised their concerns.
2015 is shaping up to be a big year for civil rights and liberties in Florida. Check back here to hear more about juvenile justice, privacy and other issues that should be scheduled for hearing soon.