Virginia Lawmakers Pass LGBTQ Protections, a First for Southern States

Virginia lawmakers passed a bill last week that would give comprehensive protections to the LGBTQ community, making it the first Southern state to do so.

Virginia lawmakers passed a bill last week that would give comprehensive protections to the LGBTQ community, making it the first Southern state to do so. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Idaho bill would remove governor’s power to select replacements for lawmakers … Florida mayors ask for universal background checks … Montana lawmaker who called for socialists to be shot refuses to resign.

Virginia lawmakers passed a bill last week that would give comprehensive protections to the LGBTQ community, making it the first Southern state to do so. The legislation adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s list of protected classes in housing, employment and public accommodations, and gives LGBTQ people legal remedies to sue if they experience discrimination. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have passed the measure, although each chamber still needs to pass the other’s version. But Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, says he intends to sign the final bill, which would also give the state attorney general the power to pursue cases against those “engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance” to the civil rights proposed in the bill. LGBTQ organizations heralded the change as the sign of a turning tide in the south. “You’re not free if you’re discriminated against in housing and employment, and this legislation is going to change that so LGBT people can be free like everyone else,” said Alphonso David, of the Human Rights Campaign. Some Republican lawmakers raised fears it would force business owners to accommodate LGBTQ people’s requests even if it violates their religious beliefs. “There are many people in this commonwealth who would say that their religious convictions are part of who they are,” said Del. Dave LaRock. Del. Mark Sickles, the bill’s sponsor, said he wasn’t concerned. “If you open your business to the public, that means everyone in the public. This is a bill about civil society. It’s about what we do in the civil world. It’s not about what you do in your private religious life,” he said. [Virginia Mercury; Associated Press]

LAWMAKER REPLACEMENTS | A bill in Idaho that would change who gets to replace a state lawmaker after they step down advanced out of committee last week. The bill would allow a local party committee to select a replacement instead of the governor. Currently, local party committees have to send three names to the governor for their consideration, but the bill would change that number to just one. "I think it helps secure our place in the three branches of government. The legislative branch is going to take care of the legislative branch,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, a Republican who supports the measure. Opponents of the bill said it gives too much power to local committees. The system as it stands allows the governor to select "the most reasonable person instead of the most partisan person,” said Lori Burelle of the Southwest Idaho chapter of the National Organization of Women, who testified against the bill. The bill was introduced because last month, Republican Gov. Brad Little selected a local committee’s third choice to replace a state lawmaker who had been removed after a felony conviction. [KTVB; Idaho Press]

BACKGROUND CHECKS | Seventeen mayors in Florida wrote to a state lawmaker asking him to add universal background checks to a more modest gun control measure. The mayors, including those from Tampa and Miami-Dade County, made their pitch to state Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican who is sponsoring a bill that would require gun show sellers to complete background checks. “As you lead the effort to consider legislation this session to prevent gun violence, including mass shootings, we write to express our support for passing a state law to require criminal background checks on all gun sales. The Florida Legislature should build upon the important gun violence legislation passed following the Parkland mass shooting and pass a comprehensive background check law,” the mayors wrote. Fifteen states have universal background check laws, requiring the process to happen for any gun sale. [Tampa Bay Times]

SHOOTING SOCIALISTS | A Montana state representative is refusing party leaders’ calls for him to resign after he said last week that the U.S. Constitution allows for socialists to be shot or jailed. Republican Rep. Rodney Garcia said socialists “have to be tried” and if they’re found guilty can be jailed or shot, “but more than likely they would never be shot because we just don’t do that in today’s society. We’re supposed to be civilized.” Montana Speaker of the House Greg Hertz and other Republican leaders called the comments deeply disturbing. “Your reckless and un-American remarks are beneath that of a public official and do not represent the values of the Republican Party, Montana House of Representatives or the people of our great state,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Garcia asking him to resign. Garcia said he will not resign unless God asks him to. [Associated Press]

CHOCOLATE SYRUP | At the Tennessee State of the State speech last week, state Rep. Kent Calfee was caught drinking directly from a bottle of chocolate syrup, in a moment that quickly went viral on Twitter. Calfee later corrected people who were curious about why he was drinking syrup, explaining that the bottle only held water. "It's a repurposed syrup bottle that I drink my water out of. I'm not going to buy a $25 or $35 or $45 water bottle that’s not worth what it costs because I'll probably put it down and leave it somewhere,” he said. [Tennessean]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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