Mixed Bag as VA Legislative Session Ends


From The Washington Blade

Virginia lawmakers considered a number of LGBT-specific bills in their 2016 legislative session that ended on Friday.

The Virginia Senate in January approved a bill that would codify into law Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s 2014 executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees. A measure that sought to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Virginia Housing Law also passed in the chamber.

“We were very excited [the] workplace [bill] passed in the Senate,” James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from Richmond. “The housing bill passed with bipartisan support.”

A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee last month voted to send the bills to the Virginia Code Commission. McAuliffe in the coming weeks is expected to veto a bill the Republican-controlled House of Delegates approved on March 9 that would allow officials to refuse to officiate same-sex marriages because of their religious beliefs.

Lawmakers during the 2016 legislative session considered eight other anti-LGBT bills.
The Senate Courts of Justice Committee in January approved a religious freedom measure that critics dubbed the “Kim Davis” bill. A similar proposal passed in the House of Delegates last month.

“The governor at the beginning was very enthusiastic in his leadership in saying he would veto harmful bills,” Parrish told the Blade. The Senate Education and Health Committee in January narrowly killed a bill that would have banned “conversion therapy” to minors in Virginia.

The House of Delegates General Laws Committee last month tabled a bill that would have required people to use restrooms in schools and public buildings based on their “biological gender.” A measure that would have prevented municipalities from enacting anti-LGBT discrimination ordinances also failed to get out of committee.

“While we continue to make some progress, I am disappointed that my Republican colleagues in the House of Delegates are still unwilling to offer even minimum protections to LGBTQ Virginians,” said state Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) on Wednesday.

McEachin, along with state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) last December introduced the bill that would have codified McAuliffe’s executive order banning discrimination against LGBT state employees.

“All Virginians deserve to feel safe from bigotry and prejudice,” McEachin told the Blade.
Ebbin shared a similar message.

“The 2016 General Assembly session was a mixed bag,” he told the Blade.

“We saw government employment nondiscrimination and, for the first time, housing nondiscrimination legislation pass the Senate,” added Ebbin. “House Republicans, however, moved with urgency to pass legislation to provide protections for those who want to discriminate.”

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee on March 8 stunned political observers when it endorsed former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s nomination to the Virginia Supreme Court. The anti-LGBT Republican withdrew his name from consideration the following day.

The General Assembly on March 10 elected Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Stephen McCullough to fill the vacancy on the state’s highest court.

See more at The Washington Blade