Metro Weekly

2 pro-equality bills move to Virginia House as advocates hold Day of Action

Employment and housing nondiscrimination bills likely to fail along partisan lines in subcommittee

Members of the Democratic House and Senate caucuses at Equality Virginia’s 2016 Day of Action and Legislative Reception – Photo: Equality Virginia, via Facebook.

Two pro-equality bills that passed the Virginia Senate with unanimous support from Democrats and one-third of the Republican Senate caucus have been assigned to a House subcommittee, likely the last step before both measures are inevitably defeated.

Both Sen. Adam Ebbin’s (D-Alexandria) bill to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in public employment, and Sen. Jennifer Wexton’s (D-Leesburg) bill to prohibit housing discrimination reach the subcommittee just as hundreds of LGBTQ advocates are descending on Richmond in order to lobby lawmakers to give the bills a chance as part of Equality Virginia’s Day of Action.

Held annually, the Day of Action seeks to empower LGBTQ advocates and allies by allowing them a chance to express their concerns to their elected officials during a morning session at the state Capitol. In the afternoon, Equality Virginia has eight different hour-long sessions to provide advice on current LGBTQ legal issues, ways to get engaged with activism, and how to organize on the grassroots level to affect change. The day wraps up with a reception in the evening.

Unfortunately for those lobbying legislators today, a number of pro-LGBTQ bills have already been killed — most of them in House subcommittees — earlier this session. Luckily, some of the more severe anti-LGBTQ bills, such as one that would have instituted a North Carolina-style bathroom law on the commonwealth, or one that would have permitted blatant discrimination by companies or organizations that contract with the state, have also been defeated. 

Ebbin and Wexton’s bills are the last two chances for pro-LGBTQ legislation to pass this session. But both face a huge hurdle in the House because of the partisan makeup of subcommittees, which Republicans control by 5-2 margins, due to Democrats holding only 34 of 100 seats in the lower chamber.

Additionally, many of the subcommittees where LGBTQ-related bills would typically be assigned are often stacked with Republicans from districts or areas of the state where opposition to LGBTQ rights is strong. For instance, Republicans from Northern Virginia, more socially liberal parts of Hampton Roads, or those representing swing areas or college towns are almost never seated on committees dealing with LGBTQ rights. As a result, bills are killed in subcommittee, often by voice vote, which allows Republican lawmakers to avoid on-the-record floor votes. Because there is no record of a firm stance on a certain issue, lawmakers can appeal to conservative interest groups like the Family Foundation of Virginia while avoiding being tarred as anti-LGBTQ in the eyes of more socially liberal voters.

In the end, the fate of Ebbin and Wexton’s nondiscrimination bills will be considered by a small group of seven lawmakers, rather than the full 100-member House. Those lawmakers are: Delegates Keith Hodges (R-Urbanna), Tommy Wright (R-Victoria), Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), Dickie Bell (R-Staunton), Jay Leftwich (R-Chesapeake), Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond City), and Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg).

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