By Meghan Gaffney
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – By one vote, the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee has approved a bill that prohibits discrimination in public employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The committee on Monday voted 8-7 for Senate Bill 785 after Sen. Jill Vogel of Winchester defected from her Republican colleagues and joined Democrats in supporting the measure.
SB 785 was introduced by Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, and co-sponsored by more than a dozen other Democrats. This is the sixth time McEachin has filed such legislation.
“I believe that all Virginians deserve equality, justice and fairness,” McEachin said. “I will continue to introduce this legislation until we are all confident that Virginians’ employment is based solely on job performance, not other irrelevant characteristics.”
SB 785 would prohibit state and local governments from discriminating against job applicants on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill also codifies existing prohibitions against discrimination in public employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability or status as a disabled veteran or other veteran.
McEachin recently wrote an op-ed about the issue, which was posted on the website of Equality Virginia, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Virginians. He said his bill would solidify the rights of the LGBT community.
Currently, those rights are protected by executive orders issued by the governor. While Democratic governors have enthusiastically signed such orders, in 2010 Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell initially omitted sexual orientation from the types of discrimination prohibited in state employment.
“Current protections could disappear with the stroke of a pen,” McEachin wrote. “That’s why passing a bill is so important. Discrimination is always wrong, and Virginians shouldn’t have to count on a particular governor or election result to know they’re protected.”
But opponents of McEachin’s bill say the existing system is fine and doesn’t need fixing.
“It has worked well under Executive Order by at least the last two governors,” said Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville. He is a member of the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee and voted against SB 785.
“There was some concern that we would open up the situation to waste money in the court system,” Ruff explained Tuesday in an email. “The question being is this: If someone is not hired or promoted, they may claim it is because of orientation no matter what their orientation is.”
Under existing Virginia law, according to Equality Virginia, there is no statewide protection against discrimination in the workplace for LGBT individuals. This means that teachers and other state and local employees could be discriminated against for their sexual orientation.
McEachin has introduced a nondiscrimination bill in the General Assembly every year since 2010. It has passed the Senate three times only to be killed in the House of Delegates.
After Monday’s endorsement by the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee, SB 785 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
Del. Kenneth Plum, D-Reston, has filed a similar House bill – HB 1498. It is awaiting action by the House Committee on General Laws.
How They Voted
Here is how the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted Monday on SB 785 (Public employment; prohibits discrimination based on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity).
01/26/15 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology with substitute (8-Y 7-N)
YEAS – Colgan, Locke, Petersen, Barker, Vogel, Deeds, Ebbin, Wexton – 8.
NAYS – Ruff, Stosch, Martin, Stuart, Black, Reeves, Garrett – 7.
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