Two nondiscrimination bills made it through the Virginia Senate on Friday. Senator Adam Ebbin’s (D-Alexandria) and Senator Donald McEachin’s (D-Henrico) bill, SB12, regarding nondiscrimination in public employment, and Senator Jennifer Wexton’s (D-Loudoun) bill, SB67, regarding discriminatory housing practices, both passed 25-15 with all Democrats in favor.
Addressing the Senate floor, Senator Ebbin said, “We want talented workers to go to work rather than worry about how they’ll be treated and an assurance that when we attract people to Virginia they can permanently work here in a discrimination free workplace.”
Speaking to her bill, Senator Wexton said, “More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies already prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation, and more than 60% based on gender identity. And if their employees run the risk of not being able to find housing because we in the Virginia legislature aren’t willing to protect them, they’re going to go elsewhere.”
After the vote, Senator McEachin said, “Employment and housing need to be determined by job performance and by a person’s ability to pay rent and be a good neighbor, not by other arbitrary characteristics. A New Virginia Economy is an open, welcoming place where we are able to attract the best and brightest. These two measures will help us do just that.”
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.
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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.
A previous versions of the bill — SB 917 — failed in committee last year on a near-party-line vote.