State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise (Pic by Minority Office, via flsenate.gov)

Florida lawmakers have crafted a slew of new bills that would outlaw hiring discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, whether someone is unemployed and whether an applicant has a criminal history.

State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, has introduced Senate Bill 518,  which would prohibit “an employer from refusing to consider for employment, or refusing to offer employment to, a person because the person is or was unemployed.”

According to a summary of the bill, it also prohibits “an employer from publishing in print, on the Internet, or in any other medium an advertisement or announcement for a job which states or indicates that an unemployed person is disqualified from consideration for the job [and] prohibits an employer from directing or requesting an employment agency to take a person’s status as unemployed into account in screening or referring applicants for employment.”

Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that many employers were discriminating against applicants who had been unemployed for an extended period of time.

According to the article:

A recent review of job vacancy postings on popular sites like Monster.com, CareerBuilder and Craigslist revealed hundreds that said employers would consider (or at least “strongly prefer”) only people currently employed or just recently laid off.

Unemployed workers have long suspected that the gaping holes on their résumés left them less attractive to employers. But with the country in the worst jobs crisis since the Great Depression, many had hoped employers would be more forgiving.

The practice is common enough that New Jersey recently passed a law outlawing job ads that bar unemployed workers from applying. New York and Michigan are considering the idea, and similar legislation has been introduced in Congress. The National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit organization that studies the labor market and helps the unemployed apply for benefits, has been reviewing the issue, and last week issued a report that has nudged more politicians to condemn these ads.

Rich’s law would create penalties for such practices, which she hopes will help Floridians who have been unemployed for over a year finally find work.

Rich is not the only legislator that has introduced a bill to rid some form of discrimination in the hiring process. State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, introduced the “Competitive Workforce Act,” which would outlaw “discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.” The bill would also “defines terms, substitutes references to ‘disability’ for references to ‘handicap’ and revises and conforms terminology,” according to its summary.

The bill’s language also revises “provisions to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as impermissible grounds for discrimination” It also revises “provisions to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as impermissible grounds for discrimination in public lodging establishments and public food service establishments,” among other revisions.

Three other legislators have also introduced legislation that would quell some discrimination for certain job applicants:

  • Sen. Gary Siplin’s introduced Senate Bill 102, which would prohibit “the use of a job applicant’s personal credit history as a hiring criterion.”
  • Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, introduced a bill that would prohibit “a public employer from inquiring about or considering the criminal history record of an applicant for public employment until the applicant has been selected for an interview by the public employer.” According to the bill summary, “the restriction does not prohibit a public employer from notifying an applicant that a law or the employer’s policy may disqualify the applicant from employment in a particular position with the public employer.”
  • Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, introduced legislation that would give employers a tax credit for employing someone who was previously convicted of a felony.

Poverty and unemployment have been persistent problems in Florida. Many of Florida’s largest cities are still struggling to rebound from the recession. In September, Florida had 69 mass layoff actions, which was the fourth highest number in the nation, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics summary.

The GOP-led Legislature has been criticized by Democratic members for not passing bills that would help more Floridians get a job. Democrats are also concerned that Gov. Rick Scott’s jobs plans will not improve the stagnant unemployment rate in the state.

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