TALLAHASSEE — It’s been a long journey from a jail cell to the terrazzo floors of the state Capitol for Sen. Arthenia Joyner.
Joyner, D-Tampa, was arrested 50 years ago as a Florida A&M University student while picketing outside the whites-only Florida Theater in Tallahassee.
“We fought for something worth having, and we won,” Joyner said Wednesday, struggling against tears. “But the struggle for civil rights is never-ending.”
That’s why, Joyner said, she and other Democratic senators are backing a package of civil-rights legislation for the 2014 legislative session, which starts in March. Proposed measures would:
* Allow legal immigrants with no criminal history to get drivers’ licenses (SB 96).
* Lower college costs for children of immigrants (SB 300).
* Prohibit employers from asking about criminal history on an initial job application (SB 234).
* Protect pregnant woman from workplace discrimination (SB 220).
* Protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians from housing, employment and banking discrimination (SB 348).
Another bill not yet filed will allow for a statewide domestic partnership registry. It was introduced last year but died in committee.
Tampa has a similar registry for city residents, which allows same-sex partners to make health care, child care, funeral and other decisions for each other.
“We will continue fighting,” said that bill’s sponsor, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. Members of the LGBT community “should be able to live their lives in dignity.”
Joyner, 70, said she wanted to extend civil rights to new groups of citizens who deserve protection.
“So long as one group can be singled out and denied the right to strive for their dreams, the struggle is not over,” she said.
Joyner, an attorney, was first elected in 2006 to a district that includes parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas counties. She is the incoming Senate Democratic leader, replacing Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, made a surprise appearance to congratulate Joyner.
The Senate Democratic Caucus room was filled with enlarged photos of Joyner and others protesting in the early 1960s, including one of her and dozens of young women sitting in a Tallahassee courtroom.
Joyner said she eventually spent 21 days in the Leon County Jail.
“Now, we take for granted what was fought for, and fought for so hard,” Gaetz said. “The people of Florida will never know what they owe to you.”