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Virginia House Subcommittee Kills Employment-Nondiscrimination Bill

by John Riley
Thursday Feb 21, 2013
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A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee voted Tuesday to table SB701, a bill that would prohibit discrimination in public employment based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, effectively killing the measure for the remainder of the session despite widespread support for LGBT employment protections across the commonwealth, including among Republicans in the state Senate.

The House General Laws Subcommittee on Professions/Occupations and Administrative Process voted to table the bill, which would have extended nondiscrimination protections to LGBT state employees, bringing Virginia in line with the overwhelming majority of the state’s major private employers, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Northrop Grumman and Capital One Financial Corp., which have nondiscrimination policies regarding LGBT individuals, and of which several offer domestic-partner benefits, according to information from the Human Rights Campaign’s 2013 Corporate Equality Index.

Both Democrats on the subcommittee, Dels. Luke Torian (D-Prince William Co.) and Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield counties), were co-patrons of the measure. But the six Republicans on the panel banded together to table the bill, denying it the votes needed just to be considered by the full Committee on General Laws.

Prior to its defeat, SB701 had received bipartisan support from 46 co-patrons in both chambers of the General Assembly, and passed the Senate on Jan. 25 by a vote of 24-16, earning the support of four moderate Republicans in the upper chamber, including Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City, Poquoson, Hampton, Suffolk, Surry, Isle of Wight, New Kent, Gloucester, King William, King and Queen counties).

LGBT-rights group Equality Virginia and its partner organization, ProgressVA, issued a statement condemning the subcommittee’s actions.

"State employees must now go another year without workplace protections," James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. "It’s downright disrespectful that this subcommittee did not listen to the thousands of Virginians that messaged their delegates and senators over the past two months in support of protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state employees."

As part of its work in the field prior to the start of the 2013 General Assembly session, Equality Virginia had organized thousands of constituents across the state to lobby their elected officials on behalf of the bill. Equality Virginia previously reported that the General Assembly had received more than 12,000 constituent messages in support of SB701.

The organization and its partners also touted a poll by Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates and the Schapiro Group that showed that 90 percent of Virginians believe employment protections should exist for LGBT residents.

"It’s outrageous that a few state delegates refuse to ensure Virginia law reflects the basic tenet of fairness and provide workplace protections for all Virginians," Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, said in a press release. "No citizen should fear the loss of their livelihood because of who they are and who they love."

The bill’s defeat came just a day after the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors passed a unanimous resolution of support for it, making the mostly rural county in southwestern Virginia the 13th such jurisdiction in the commonwealth supporting nondiscrimination protections through local ordinances and executive orders.

"The support of our cities and counties is further proof that this House of Delegates needs to catch up with our Senate, the business community and the rest of Virginia," Parrish said.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax counties), who co-patroned the measure with fellow Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond, Henrico, Charles City counties), said he was disappointed by today’s news.

"I’m very disappointed that the Republican members of the subcommittee would ignore the pleas of so many Virginians to allow workplace protections for LGBT people," Ebbin told Metro Weekly. "They just don’t get it."

Ebbin said the measure always faced an uphill battle in the House of Delegates, which is typically much more conservative than the Senate. Republicans control the lower chamber 68-32.

"There’s a real either affiliation with the tea party or a fear of the tea party in the House," Ebbin said. "It’s just a more conservative body. There’s also not a lot of desire in Virginia to conform. By that I mean the members of the General Assembly don’t seek to be like other states. That’s not to excuse what went on today, but it’s notable."

Ebbin said that he believes if Terry McAuliffe wins the governor’s race later this year, he will issue an executive order circumventing the General Assembly by providing those protections for LGBT state employees, but such an executive order would only last for the length of his term. In the meantime, Ebbin said, supporters of the legislation must work with Equality Virginia to raise citizen awareness in targeted districts where Republican members might be more inclined to support the bill. Most House Democrats are in support of providing employment protctions.

"I’m not going to give up," Ebbin said, vowing to bring the measure back in another session. "One day, this will become law. It’s just a matter of how soon."

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