Monday, March 27, 2023

VA State Legislature Has Passed 11 Pieces of Pro-Equality Legislation

This General Assembly session, the Virginia state legislature made history by passing 11 pieces of pro-equality legislation that will improve the lives of LGBTQ Virginians – including protecting LGBTQ elders and people living with HIV, affirming the right to marry, repealing harmful legal loopholes, and recognizing diverse family structures. These bills now head to the Governor’s desk to be signed and become law on July 1, 2021.

“If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that transformation happens when we build upon our community’s collective power,” said Vee Lamneck, Executive Director of Equality Virginia, the LGBTQ lobbying group headquartered in Richmond.

Here’s a rundown of what will become law this summer.

HIV Law Modernization 

Senator Mamie Locke and Senator Jennifer McClellan’s SB 1138, modernizes Virginia’s law by addressing statutes that criminalized people living with HIV. SB 1138 passed in the Senate 21-17 and then passed in the House 56-44, after picking up an amendment to reinstate the Class 6 felony penalty for infected sexual battery. In order to resolve the debate over the penalty, the bill went to a conference committee where the amendment was voted on and agreed to 55-44 by the House and 23-16 by the Senate.

“While this is a remarkable and historic step forward, our work to lower the felony continues as the bill heads to the Governor’s desk,” said Lamneck.

Building Safer Communities

Because of Delegate Danica Roem’s HB 2132, Virginia will become the 12th state plus Washington, D.C. to ban the LGBTQ panic defense. HB 2132 passed in the House 58-42 and then picked up an amendment in the Senate that adds oral solicitation and hitting to the list of unacceptable justifications for using the LGBTQ panic defense. It then passed in the Senate 23-15 and the House adopted the amendment 58-39. The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk and once it is signed, Virginia will come come closer to cultivating safer communities where LGBTQ people can thrive.

Update Virginia’s Laws to Reflect Marriage Equality

We made significant headway in the two-year process to remove the anti-marriage amendment from Virginia’s constitution with companion bills SJ 270 and HJ 582. Delegate Mark Sickle’s HJ 582, which incorporates Delegate Alfonso Lopez’s HJ 557 and Delegate Mark Levine’s HJ 539, passed in the House 60-33 and the Senate 22-12. Senator Adam Ebbin’s SJ 270 was agreed to by the Senate 24-12and adopted by the House 60-37.

In order to completely remove the anti-marriage amendment from the constitution, it will require the same version of the bill to pass two General Assembly sessions, separated by an election year.

“After this year’s election, we are optimistic that the issue will pass again in the General Assembly in 2022,” said Lamneck. “Then, it will be placed on the ballot and Virginians will have the opportunity to vote to affirm marriage equality.”

LGBTQ Visibility 

In an effort to ensure a more equitable and representative Commonwealth, Delegate Alfonso Lopez’s HB 2130 establishes an LGBTQ Advisory Board to the Governor, after having passed in the House 57-42 and Senate 23-16. HB 2130 promises to have LGBTQ Virginians represented and part of the policy-making conversation at the state level. It is headed to the Governor, and once signed, LGBTQ Virginians will have the opportunity to guide our state’s policy priorities and LGBTQ outreach efforts – particularly in rural and  undeserved communities.

Protecting Families 

Virginia joins the ranks of other states that allow confirmatory or second-parent adoptions thanks to Senator Jennifer Boysko’s SB 1321. After passing in the Senate 24-13 and the House 80-20, SB 1321 will establish a legal pathway to parenthood for unmarried LGBTQ couples. The bill is well on its way to becoming law since it has already been sent to the Governor’s desk and he has until March 31st to sign it. Once signed, Virginia will recognize and affirm the diversity of LGBTQ family structures. Big thanks to our national partner Family Equality, and to our local partner, Colleen Quinn, a family law attorney based in Richmond, who have both been supporting this effort with us for years.

Older Americans Act 

Senator George Barker’s SB 1366 and Delegate Dawn Adam’s HB 1805 are companion bills that amend the Older Americans Act (OAA) to designate LGBTQ older adults as a population with “greatest social need.” SB 1366 passed in the Senate 23-16 and the House 58-41 with an amendment. Similarly, HB 1805 passed in the House 56-43 and then in the Senate 25-14, after picking up amendments. Both chambers provided amendments and sent the bills to a conference committee where the Senate amendments were agreed to and voted on by both the House 57-41 and the Senate 22-16. This important update to the OAA, will ensure that LGBTQ elders have equal access to aging services and resources, like Meals on Wheels, to help them more easily age at home in their communities. Special thanks to our national partner, SAGE, for their support, which helped advance this new and vital piece of legislation.

End Workplace Discrimination 

We took major strides to continue to protect all Virginians from workplace discrimination thanks to several bills which update the Virginia Human Rights Act. Delegate Mark Sickles’ HB 1848 adds discrimination on the basis of disability, and it unanimously passed in both the House 99-0 and the Senate 39-0. It has been signed by Governor Northam and will become effective July 1, 2021.

Additionally, Senator Jennifer McClellan’s SB 1310, which extends equal rights and nondiscrimination protections to domestic workers, passed in the Senate 21-18 and House 55-45. Delegate Marcia Price’s HB 1864, expands the definition of “employer” to include those who employ one or more domestic workers. The bill passed in the House 55-44. After an initial defeat 7-7 in the Senate’s General Laws and Technology committee, the bill was reconsidered and passed through Senate 21-17 with an amendment that was adopted by the House 54-44.

Saint Lamneck, “While the 2021 General Assembly session has officially come to a close, we know that our work is far from over. We will continue to be a constant, ever-improving force for the good of our community so that all LGBTQ Virginians can thrive in a fully inclusive Commonwealth where we are free to authentically live, love, learn, and work.”

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