Metro Weekly

Hate Crimes Bill Dies in Va. Senate Committee

Measure would have added sexual orientation, gender identification to definition of "hate crime"

A bill that would have added sexual orientation and gender identification to the definition of what constitutes a hate crime failed to gain the necessary votes to advance from a Virginia Senate committee on Wednesday, thereby killing the measure for the 2015 legislative session. 

Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, chief patron of SB799.

The bill, SB799, one of several pro-LGBT measures promoted by advocates and legislative allies, failed to gain the eight votes needed to pass from the Courts of Justice Committee to the floor for a vote of the full Senate, failing 6-7. In addition to adding sexual orientation and gender identification to a list of protected groups or characteristics, including race, religion or ethnic origin, to the definition of  what constitutes a hate crime, the bill, had it passed, would also have required local law enforcement authorities to report any hate crimes to the Department of State Police. The State Police would then be tasked with recording the crime in a central database for the collection and analysis of information related to the commission of hate crimes.  

The 6-7 vote split along party lines, with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans rejecting it. Voting in favor were: Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Springfield, Alexandria City, Falls Church) and Sens. Janet Howell (D-Reston, Tysons Corner, Arlington); Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth, Sussex, Franklin, Emporia); John Edwards (D-Roanoke, Pearisburg, Blacksburg); Donald McEachin (D-City of Richmond, Ashland, Charles City); and Linda “Toddy” Puller (D-Mount Vernon, Woodbridge, Quantico).

Voting against the bill were: Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg, Poquoson, Suffolk, King and Queen Court House) and Sens. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg, Luray, Front Royal); Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsburg, Bowling Green, Tappahannock, Lancaster); Bill Stanley (R-Glade Hill, Galax, Martinsville, Danville); Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, Louisa, Culpeper); Tom Garrett (R-Lynchburg, Appomattox, Farmville, Cumberland); and Ben Chafin (R-Lebanon, Norton, Tazewell, Radford).  

Two more Republicans — Richard Stuart (Stafford, Fredericksburg, Montross, Brentsville) and Jill Holtzman Vogel (Upperville, Winchester, Aldie, Jeffersonton) — were not present when the bill was brought up and did not vote by proxy, meaning their votes were not recorded. 

Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Upperville

Vogel told Metro Weekly that she had temporarily left the committee to notarize a document, and the bill was brought up in her absence. She had not designated a proxy to vote for her, so in the official record, there will be no recorded vote for her, she said. That said, she indicated she would have voted favorably, and added that she will be voting in favor of a proposed bill to prohibit employment discrimination when it is brought up later this session. 

“I do not believe in discrimination for any reason. Period,” Vogel said. “I also believe that a hate crime is a hate crime, and should be prosecuted as such under the law.”

A spokesman for Sen. Stuart did not return a voicemail seeking comment as of publication time.  

Abigail Fox, a spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington, McLean, Potomac Falls), the bill’s chief patron, said the senator stood by earlier comments she had made in support of the bill. 

“Obviously, it’s very disappointing. This would have done a lot for Virginians, and for LGBT individuals,” Fox said. “The FBI estimates that 20 percent of hate crimes are committed against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This bill would have helped those people by having those crimes reported to the State Police.”

The commonwealth’s top LGBT rights organization, Equality Virginia, also expressed its disappointment at the bill’s failure, with the group’s executive director, James Parrish, saying he was “saddened” by close margin by which the bill failed to advance from committee. 

“SB 799 would have ensured that hate crimes against LGBT Virginians are being reported to the State Police so they may be collected an analyzed. Expanding Virginia’s hate crimes law to include sexual orientation and gender identity is about sending a message that violence against LGBT people is not okay,” Parrish said. 

“Opposing an inclusive law sends the message that LGBT people are legitimate targets for violence, something that very few Virginians would support,” Parrish continued. “Anti-LGBT hate crimes are the third most frequent kind of hate crimes in America, after race and religion. We must not systematically exclude LGBT people from existing hate crimes law. It’s time for Virginia to join the majority of states that already address LGBT people as part of their hate crime laws.”

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