For the first time, Virginia could protect all state employees from discrimination, as a bill begins its path through the 2013 General Assembly.
Right now, it is not a crime if state employees face discrimination because of race, religion or sexual orientation. Sen. Don McEachin (D-Richmond) will seek to change the status quo with the introduction of Senate Bill 701, now titled, "State Government Employment; Nondiscrimination."
McEachin has a 45-day session to rally support, a goal of enacting protections never written into state law.
"It's about fairness," said McEachin in an interview Friday. "We don't have any safeguards on the books for state employees in terms of age discrimination, gender, sexual orientation or anything."
While private companies extend equal opportunity protection to employees, Virginia has never codified the same rights for state workers. Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine enacted discrimination protection through executive orders, but those mandates expired as soon as they left office.
When asked why protections for Virginia employees do not already exist, Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU in Virginia, said the answer is simple.
"There are people in this state who do not want to see people protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation," said Gastañaga in an interview Friday. "Efforts have failed because House Republicans are not yet ready to extend discrimination protection to the LGBT community."
In this instance concerning state employees, worker protections under federal law do not apply.
"The state isn't subject to regulation by the federal government, in terms of employment discrimination," said Gastañaga.
Republican lawmakers assert minimal evidence exists regarding state workforce discrimination. McEachin said he is optimistic the bill will pass in 2013, after similar efforts have failed in recent years.
"The moral arc of the universe is bending in this direction," McEachin said. "We just have to put up our hands and pulls little further and make sure it's in place for the state workforce."
Senate Bill 706 currently awaits a vote in the General Laws and Technology Committee.
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