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March 14, 2008

West Virginia equal rights bill dies as session ends

 

Charleston, W. Va.--A bill to extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBT people died on March 8 after it was removed from the House of Delegatesí fast-track calendar.

After passing the state Senate unanimously, the measure faced contentious debate in the House Judiciary Committee, where one delegate was ruled out of order after asking if it would force employers to hire workers with HIV.

Del. Mel Kessler, who is leaving the House after a single term in an attempt to unseat Gov. Joe Manchin, later complained to the press that Judiciary chair Carrie Webster was not allowing him to express his religious beliefs.

Neither Webster nor state newspaper reports on the matter pointed out that it is already illegal to discriminate against people with HIV under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, regardless of whether or not the West Virginia bill had passed.

The bill left the committee on a 14-7 vote on March 5, but fell on the deaf ears in the House of Delegates, despite the removal of gender identity and expression, which committee members felt was too broad.

Less than a day later it was removed from the special calendar that fast-tracked bills before the March 8 end of the legislative session, killing it.

Throughout the process, opponents of the measure brought up hackneyed arguments against it, including fear-mongering about sexual predators living in student housing and male teachers changing into female garb in front of students.

Kessler and other bill opponents pointed to the Old Testament.

Delegate Kelli Sobonya wanted exemptions for not only religious institutions, but individuals as well.

Del. Barbara Fleischauer pointed out that such a provision would destroy the bill, arguing the need for tolerance on the part of West Virginians.

Sources in House leadership indicated that around 35 Democrats were likely to oppose the measure if it came up for a vote, and Republican opposition would match that.

 

 


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