Metro Weekly

Virginia Senate committee approves nondiscrimination bills

Equal employment and fair housing measures head for Senate vote while other pro-LGBT measures are tabled

 Virginia Senate.

A Virginia Senate committee has approved two measures that would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in public employment and housing, with both bills earning bipartisan support as they head for a floor vote later this week.

The Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology approved SB12, a measure that would permanently codify prohibitions on anti-LGBT employment discrimination. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has previously issued an executive order prohibiting such discrimination in state employment, but the order does not apply to local government bodies or boards, and only lasts for the duration of McAuliffe’s term in office.

By making the protections permanent and expanding the bill’s reach to include all forms of public employment, supervisors in state and local government offices will be prohibited from firing or refusing to hire otherwise qualified LGBT individuals based solely on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill also provides guidelines for a grievance process if an agent of the government is found to have discriminated against an employee or job applicant.

Ebbin and McEachin’s bill passed 9-4, with all seven of the committee’s Democrats and two Republicans, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Upperville, Winchester, Aldie, Jeffersonton) and Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke, Salem, Christiansburg, Austinville), voting in favor. Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) abstained from the vote.

The committee also approved SB67, a measure introduced by Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg, Sterling, Herndon) that would prohibit anybody from discriminating against a person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, regardless of whether an owner or landlord is selling or renting. Last year, a similar bill failed to pass committee after it deadlocked on a 7-7 vote due to the absence of former Sen. Chuck Colgan (D-Manassas).

Wexton’s bill eventually passed by a 10-4 vote, with Vogel, Sutterlein and DeSteph all voting in favor.

While the passage of both nondiscrimination bills augers well for their fate when they are voted upon by the full Senate — which could be as early as Friday — supporters of a ban on conversion therapy suffered a setback on Tuesday after the Health Professions subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Education and Health recommended tabling a pair of bills by Sen. Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg, Hopewell, Richmond City) and Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon, Woodbridge, Quantico). While the bills are not technically dead at this point, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to muster the votes to pass the full committee on Thursday without a favorable recommendation from the subcommittee.

On the marriage front, a trio of bills were introduced by Ebbin, McEachin and Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth) to amend the Virginia Constitution to permanently repeal the now-toothless ban on same-sex marriage. The Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections moved to pass on all three bills to 2017, which is the first year when such a change can be voted upon. To repeal the ban, legislators must vote to put the proposed change up for a popular vote twice: once, during the 2017 session, before the November 2017 General Assembly election, and then again, in 2018.

On Monday, members of the Senate General Laws committee also passed by an anti-LGBT measure introduced by Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Galax, Abingdon, Bristol, Gate City) that would unnecessarily reiterate already existing First Amendment protections for religious organizations when it comes to solemnizing a same-sex marriage, and would also insulate against any lawsuit any person, business or place of public accommodation that chooses to discriminate against same-sex couples. Examples of people who could be protected under this bill’s broad scope would be the owners of a public venue that makes itself available to be rented for weddings but does not want to rent to a same-sex couple, or a baker who refuses to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding.

Carrico’s bill is expected to be considered by the committee and voted upon in the coming weeks. But even if it were to pass the Senate and the House of Delegates, it would likely be halted by a veto from Gov. McAuliffe.

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