Members of the gay rights group Fairness West Virginia visited the Capitol on Tuesday to support legislation aimed at protecting gays and lesbians from housing and employment discrimination. Our front-page centerpiece today was about Del. Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, who founded Fairness back in 2008 and has since become the state’s first openly gay lawmaker.
As you can read in today’s paper, Skinner made a little bit of history yesterday.
Minutes into the body’s floor session, in a flurry of introductions by other lawmakers, House Speaker Rick Thompson gave the floor to Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson. Skinner, the state’s first openly gay lawmaker, looked to the chamber’s north gallery and pointed out members of Fairness West Virginia, a gay rights group he founded in 2008.
He then asked Jeffrey Gustafson, his partner of three years, to stand.
People in the House chamber clapped. Gustafson sat back down, as did Skinner, and business continued as usual.
It was a small victory, Skinner said, but a victory nonetheless.
“There are all these little important points. We’re breaking the barrier,” he said.
Skinner and Senate President Jeff Kessler are expected to introduce legislation that would make it illegal to fire or evict someone based solely on their sexual orientation. Del. Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, told me getting the bill passed won’t be easy. Skaff is chairman of the House’s Economic Development and Small Business Committee.
The committee now contains 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans. Skaff said the bill would likely lose a few Democrat votes and gain a few Republicans but probably would pass.
“I think it’s close,” Skaff said Tuesday. “It passes, barely.”
He said the bill likely would survive its second committee, the House Judiciary Committee, as well. The real showdown would be on the floor vote.
“Right now, I think it’s safe to say we have a lot of work to do if we want to pass this amongst the whole House,” he said.
Dave spent most of his day with the Senate Education Committee, which met twice yesterday. Most of those meetings were taken up by teachers’ union members bashing Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s education bill.
In her prepared statement, (American Federation of Teachers, West Virginia chapter president Judy) Hale specifically called out both State Superintendent Jim Phares and state Board of Education President Wade Linger.
She said Phares has flip-flopped on seniority in hiring.
“What I fear is that Dr. Phares may have changed his position on this issue … so that we would all get down in the weeds and fight over hiring,” Hale said.
“That way, nobody will have time to focus on the primary finding of the Education Efficiency Audit — the bloated bureaucracy and top-heaviness in his department.”
The AFT will discuss some of its problems with the bill during a press conference this afternoon. “Top-heaviness” could come up during the event.