Nondiscrimination bill passes Virginia Senate 24-16, heads to House

SB701, a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in state employment, passed the Virginia Senate Friday morning by a 24-16 vote. The measure will now head to the House of Delegates.

Vogel.pngFour Republicans sided with the upper chamber’s 20 Democrats to ensure passage. Voting in the affirmative were Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City, Hampton, Suffolk, Surry, Isle of Wight, Poquoson, New Kent, Gloucester, King William, King and Queen counties), Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach, Norfolk), Sen. John Watkins (R-Richmond, Chesterfield, Powhatan counties) and Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Winchester, Frederick, Clarke, Fauquier, Loudoun and Stafford counties). Vogel paved the way for the measure’s passage after she sided with Democrats to pass the bill out of the General Laws and Technology Committee on a narrow 8-7 vote.

The measure now faces a more difficult climb in the House of Delegates, where Republicans have a supermajority, controlling the chamber 68-32. Most House Democrats and three House Republicans have signed on as co-patrons so far. Supporters of SB701 are hopeful that grassroots campaigning and pressure from constituents will force some Republicans to vote for the bill. The measure needs 51 votes to pass the lower chamber.

“We’re going to press forward with this momentum,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax counties), one of the bill’s chief co-patrons. “No state employee should ever doubt Virginia’s commitment to equal opportunity employment for all. This assures state employees that they will be judged solely on their merits and that discrimination has no place in Virginia.” 

“SB701 is all about fairness and all Virginians deserve equal opportunity, justice and fairness,” Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Charles City and Henrico counties, Richmond), the other chief co-patron, said in a statement. “The people must continue to lead the legislature and remind the House that Virginia is an open state and welcoming to all folks as we move this bill ahead.”

The bill would bring state government employers in line with policies already adopted and expanded upon by the private sector. According to LGBT rights group Equality Virginia, 80 percent of Virginia’s top 25 employers have policies protecting at least sexual orientation, and 60 percent of those companies protect gender identity and expression. 

Several major employers in Virginia not only have nondiscrimination policies on the books, but offer domestic partner benefits. Those include consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., mortgage lender Freddie Mac, defense firms Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics Corp. and Capital One Financial Corp., according to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2013 Corporate Equality Index.

“In Virginia, LGBT protections will not pass without bipartisan support,” Equality Virginia Director James Parrish said in a statement following SB701’s passage. “We are pleased four Republican senators joined their Democratic colleagues in passing SB701 to protect LGBT state employees. In the private sector, workplace protections are shown to decrease legal vulnerability while enhancing the employer’s reputation, increasing job satisfaction and boosting employee morale and productivity.”

As part of its push to pass SB701, Equality Virginia will be hosting a “Day of Action” in Richmond on Tuesday, Jan. 29, where they expect concerned citizens and LGBT allies will lobby reticent lawmakers to support the bill. Equality Virginia has said it has private polling showing nearly 90 percent of Virginians support employment protections for LGBT residents.

“Making sure elected officials hear LGBT issues are important to all Virginians is the most important thing any citizen can do to open hearts and minds across the state,” Parrish continued. “We’re very fortunate the senators that voted in support today are listening to their constituents.”

[Photo: Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (courtesy of the Virginia General Assembly)]

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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Nondiscrimination bill passes committee, will get floor vote in Va. Senate

LGBT-equality advocates in Virginia are celebrating a small victory after SB701, a bill prohibiting discrimination in public employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, passed out of the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee on an 8-7 vote Monday evening, clearing its first hurdle on what supporters hope is its path to eventual passage.

Thumbnail image for Ebbin.jpgThe bill was introduced by Democratic Senators A. Donald McEachin and Adam Ebbin.

Regarding employment protections based on sexual orientaion and gender identity/expression, the commonwealth lags significantly behind the private sector, as many of the top employers in the state, including consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., quasi-governmental mortgage lender Freddie Mac, defense firms Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics Corp., Capital One Financial Corp., Dominion Resources Inc., Volkswagen Group of America Inc., and computer and data services firms Computer Sciences Corp. and SRA International Inc. have already adopted such policies, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2013 Corporate Equality Index.

Since its introduction, 15 other Senate Democrats, 28 House Democrats and three House Republicans – Thomas Rust (R-Fairfax and Loudoun counties), R. Lee Ware (R-Chesterfield, Powhatan, Goochland and Fluvanna counties) and Joseph Yost (R-Radford, Giles, Montgomery and Pulaski counties) – have signed on as co-patrons of SB701.

Having been voted out of committee, the bill will now receive a vote by the 40-member senate, which is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. If it passes the upper chamber, it will then be sent to the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

“We’re glad the committee listened to the thousands of Virginians that messaged their delegates and senators on this issue,” James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement released following the committee vote. “Now, we must continue spreading the word about the importance of workplace protections for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state employees to move this out of the Senate.”

The bill’s progress towards a floor vote was made possible after Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Winchester, Frederick, Clarke, Culpepper, Loudoun, Fauquier and Stafford counties), one of only three Republicans representing Northern Virginia and the chamber’s sole female Republican, voted with the committee’s seven Democrats to move the bill to the floor. Vogel was also one of eight Republicans who voted last week to confirm Virginia’s first openly gay judge, Tracy Thorne-Begland, to a six-year term on the Richmond General District Court, one year after Republicans in the House of Delegates rejected his nomination due to concerns about his sexual orientation. 

Vogel.png“We’re excited that Sen. Vogel joined us on the vote for fairness and equal treatment for state employees,” Ebbin told Metro Weekly in an interview after the vote.

In addition to Vogel, supporters of SB701 also garnered the votes of Sen. Chuck Colgan (D-Manassas, Manassas Park, Prince William Co.) and Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City, Fairfax Co.), two of three Senate Democrats who did not sign on as co-patrons of the bill.

With the support of Vogel, Colgan, Petersen and the 17 Democratic co-patrons, the bill’s fate will rest largely on the support of Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Surry, Sussex, Franklin, Emporia, Greensville and Brunswick counties), the remaining Senate Democrat who is not cosponsoring the bill.

Lucas last year signed a statement to LGBT rights group Equality Virginia saying she would not discriminate in hiring, but did not specifically say whether that would pertain to sexual orientation or gender identity, while at five Senate Republicans, including Vogel, did. But Ebbin noted that Lucas has supported other nondiscrimination measures in previous sessions.

Due to the late hour at which the committee finished hearing testimony on the bill, it has not yet been added to the calendar. However, Ebbin said he expected the vote to occur this week, most likely on Thursday, Jan. 24.

Ebbin said he was optimistic that the measure would pass the chamber, though he noted that the House remains a challenging environment. But he said advocates were continuing to push forward in their attempts to pass the bill through the General Assembly.

Anna Scholl, the executive director of the left-leaning group ProgressVA, also issued a statement praising Monday’s committee vote.

“We’re extraordinarily pleased members of the Senate recognize no Virginian should face discrimination because of who they are or who they love,” Scholl said. “Protecting all state employees from workplace discrimination brings Virginia into line with the private sector standard and ensures we can recruit the best and brightest to lead our Commonwealth forward.”

LGBT advocates believe that the majority of constituents in the Commonwealth are supportive of nondiscrimination protections such as those contained in SB701. Equality Virginia recently said it has a “bipartisan” poll from Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates and the Schapiro Group that shows that 90 percent of Virginians believe gay and lesbian employees should have the right to work for the government without discrimination.

In addition, Equality Virginia, ProgressVA, and other like-minded groups have been working behind the scenes to build a network of relationships with Virginians and local elected officials throughout the state with the aim of rallying those grassroots partners to call or lobby their legislators on behalf of the bill. Last week, Equality Virginia reported that the General Assembly had received more than 11,000 constituent messages asking reticent legislators to support the measure.

“Our president spoke eloquently today in his inauguration speech by saying, ‘Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,'” Parrish said in a statement. “This bill is an opportunity for our lawmakers at home to give all LGBT Virginians an opportunity for fairness and job security.”

[Photo 1: Sen. Adam Ebbin (courtesy of campaign site). Photo 2: Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (courtesy of Virginia General Assembly website).]

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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