The West Virginia House of Delegates recommitted a bill to committee Friday that will nullify and override all local government protections of certain citizens.
House Bill 2881, the Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, will cancel out local government’s anti-discriminatory policies and allow the state’s code to overrule policies of city governments.
West Virginia code lists protections of persons without regard to race, religion, disability, sex, blindness, age, ancestry, color or national origin. The code does not include protections for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The bipartisan bill is composed of eight sponsors: five Republicans and three Democrats including Delegate Rupert Phillips, D-Logan.
“As a southern West Virginia Democrat, I respect the views and beliefs of all citizens regardless if we agree or not,” Phillips said. “We need to ensure and protect the religious freedoms of all citizens and we must take the necessary steps to curtail arbitrary disputes and outside lawsuits when these freedoms are compromised.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, who governs one of the five communities with anti-discriminatory policies, said the bill would intrude on and obstruct all equality progressions made in Huntington.
“Citizens in our community who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender have every right to expect that they can sip from the fountain of community participation,” Williams said. “That is our determination. It has no effect on any other community.”
Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, said the bill, if passed, will be a step backwards from reaching total equality in the state.
“It would take democracy out of the hands of local town and city councils where democracy exists in its purest form and override the will of the people who want to pass ordinances and laws that ban discrimination against their LGBT citizens,” Schneider said.
Schneider said the invalidation of city and local government policies would also prevent business and economic growth for the state.
“We do not need to turn the clock back, and this bill would turn the clock back,” Schneider said. “This bill would be a terrible black mark on West Virginia’s reputation and would deter businesses from locating here.”
HB 2881 was recommitted to government organization upon first reading with no further actions scheduled at this time.
Lexi Browning can be contacted at [email protected]