Housing non-discrimination, employment non-discrimination bills make their way to Senate floor

virginia general assemblyOn Monday, the Virginia Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology voted to report bills that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public employment (SB 12, co-sponsored by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Senator Donald McEachin (D-Henrico)) and in housing (SB67, proposed by Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun)).

Said Senator Ebbin, “The last four Governors of Virginia have taken action on this in one way or another – but two of the last four Attorneys General have disputed the Governor’s ability to make executive orders based on sexual orientation. 89% of Fortune 500 companies have company policies addressing non-discrimination that include sexual orientation. Virginia’s public employees deserve to know that they will be judged solely on their talents and not face workplace discrimination.”

Said Senator McEachin, “For the first time, this bill would codify for public employees statewide that they will not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Employment and advancement should depend on job performance, not other characteristics. Our Commonwealth should be a welcoming place so we can continue recruiting the best and brightest. All Virginians deserve equal opportunity, fairness and justice.”

Said Senator Wexton, “Tenants should be evaluated based on their ability to pay rent on time and to be good neighbors. Nothing else. With the vast majority of Virginia private sector employees adopting their own non-discrimination policies, if their employees run the risk of not finding housing because we in the VA legislature won’t protect them, then they’ll go elsewhere.”

SB 12 is supported by a broad array of organizations, including political advocacy groups (e.g., Equality Virginia and the ACLU of Virginia), business coalitions (e.g., the Northern Virginia Technology Council), and the McAuliffe administration. Numerous other states have enacted similar protections, and many major private employers have adopted similar internal policies. (Additional details are available here.)

While Democratic governors have repeatedly issued executive orders ensuring state non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (and, more recently, gender identity), future governors could easily roll back those protections unless they’re encoded into statutory law. Additionally, executive orders apply only to state hiring. SB 12 differs from these executive orders in that it would implement those same safeguards for employees and potential employees of local governments, as well.

Public employment non-discrimination bills, patroned by Sen. McEachin or Sen. Ebbin or both, have repeatedly passed the Senate with bipartisan support — including SB 701 in 2013 and SB 785 in 2015. They have previously gone on to die in the Republican-dominated House.

SB 67 enjoys support from many of the same groups as SB 12. As with SB 12, numerous other states have enacted similar protections. (Again, see additional details here.)

A previous versions of the bill — SB 917 — failed in committee last year on a near-party-line vote.

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