Wow – we had a really busy week! Unlike last week, I'm happy to report that this week we had some big successes.
Monday, January 26
Monday was a rewarding day at the General Assembly. SB 785, sponsored by Senator McEachin (D–9) was reported out of committee in a tight 8Y–7N vote. That bill, if it is passed by the full Senate, would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for all public employees. Passage of this bill would ensure that Virginia is competitive in recruiting the best employees and is a welcoming place for businesses and families alike.
SB 1211 also made it out of the General Laws and Technology committee with a large number of yea votes. SB 1211 is sponsored by Senator Ebbin (D–30). It revises gendered language like “mother” and “father” and “husband” and “wife” to “parent” and “spouse.” If it passes, it would modernize the Code of Virginia to reflect the contemporary reality of relationships in Virginia.
Those bills will be voted on by the full Senate on Monday, February 2nd.
Also on Monday, subcommittee three of the House Militia, Police, and Public Safety committee tabled HB 1494 (Sullivan D–48). HB 1494 was the House version of Senator Favola’s hate crimes bill. It would have required the reporting of crimes against LGBT individuals due to their sexuality or gender identity.
SB 785 (McEachin D–9) – reported
SB 1211 (Ebbin D–30) – reported
HB 1494 (Sullivan D–48) – failed to report
Tuesday, January 27 and Wednesday, January 28
Tuesday and Wednesday were brutal for bills that would have ensured the rights of LGBT Virginians. Over the two days Senate committees heard four bills, while House sub–committees heard five bills. Unfortunately, all of them failed to report out of committee.
SJ 213 (Howell D–32), SJ 214 (Ebbin D–30), and SJ 283 (McEachin D–9) were amendments to the Virginia Constitution that would have started the process of removing the gay marriage ban from the constitution. Changing the constitution is an extended process. As none of the current amendment proposals reported out of committee, the soonest the amendment could appear on the ballot is 2018, three years after the anticipated Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.
Bills SB 682 (Ebbin D–30), HB 1288 (Simon D–53), and HB 1289 (Surovell D–44) would have repealed the statute that originally banned gay marriage back in 1975. None of them made it out of committee.
Delegate Hope (D–47) sponsored HB 1385 which would have prohibited subjecting minors to sexual orientation change efforts. It, too, was killed in committee.
Delegate Simon (D–53) sponsored HB 1600 which is similar to Senator Ebbin's SB 1211. It also removes gendered language from the Code of Virginia. Unlike Senator Ebbin’s bill, Simon’s bill failed to report out of the House Civil Law subcommittee. Even with that loss, there was some promising news: Delegate Habeeb, the chairman of that committee, committed to bring HB 1600 to the very next Code Commission meeting.
Here's a review from Tuesday and Wednesday:
SJ 213 (Howell D–32) – failed to report
SJ 214 (Ebbin D–30) – failed to report
SJ 283 (McEachin D–9) – failed to report
SB 682 (Ebbin D–30) – failed to report
HB 1288 (Simon D–53) – failed to report
HB 1289 (Surovell D–44) – failed to report
HB 1385 (Hope D–47) – failed to report
HB 1600 (Simon D–53) – failed to report
Thursday, January 29
Emotions were high on Thursday when HB 1414 (Marshall R–13), the “conscience clause” bill, finally made it onto a subcommittee docket. In addition to HB 1414, that same docket had three other bills we were supporting on it as well. HB 1454 (Simon D–53), HB 1498 (Plum D–36), and HB 1643 (Villanueva R–21). These three bills failed to report, but thankfully, HB 1414 also failed to report.
HB 1454 was a fair housing bill designed to prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals when seeking housing. HB 1498 and HB 1643 would have prohibited discrimination in public employment. During the public comments on House bills 1498 and 1643, the representative of the Family Foundation stated that there are three criteria for a group to be considered a protected class under federal law, such as in the Civil Rights Act (presumably the one passed in 1964). He then said that those three classifications are historical discrimination, political powerlessness, and economic inequality, and that LGBT people as a group don't meet any of those criteria. We don't agree with his legal analysis, and furthermore, it is worth noting that transgender individuals are more than twice as likely as the general population to be unemployed and those who are employed earn demonstrably less money than their cisgender peers.
The good news from Thursday was that HB 1414 failed to report out of the subcommittee. When the subcommittee chair asked for testimony in favor of the bill, no one volunteered to defend it. When the subcommittee killed it, we all let out a sigh of relief.
In some further good news, HB 1409 (Marshall R–13) was also killed by a subcommittee. That bill would have taken away the power of the governor to require state contractors not discriminate.
That night, HJ 546 (Sullivan D–48) and 648 (Villanueva R–21) also failed to report. HJ 546 would have asked several governmental bodies to study how to revise the Code of Virginia to remove gendered language. HJ 648 would have asked the Virginia Housing Commission to study the effects of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.