Not enough lawmakers were ready to put their names next to a bill this year that made it illegal to fire or evict someone because they are gay in order to make the measure law.
Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, is the lead sponsor of the legislation. The first openly gay delegate in West Virginia history, he told the full House of Delegates in a speech Wednesday he asked for the bill not be read before the House Energy, Industry & Labor/Economic Development & Small Business Committee today.
By not discussing the legislation in that committee, it makes it next to impossible to pass the bill this year.
Skinner does not think avoiding the discussion is a concession to those who dislike the bill or a disservice to the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender community.
“I have to do what’s best for the bill as the lead sponsor, and what’s best for the whole LGBT community in West Virginia,” Skinner said. “I thought it was not in the best interest of those folks to run the bill, and potentially we could have ended up with something that is not going to be acceptable…”
Instead, he thinks the committee would have altered the bill so drastically that it would not help anyone if it were passed.
“The definition of sexual orientation was going to be changed so that transgender people would not be protected,” Skinner said after the floor session.
He had also heard of changes to the law that would have allowed for religious exemptions, giving too many entities the ability to continue to legally discriminate.
He thinks those changes had support in the committee, but were also aimed at him.
“It was an effort to both make it more passable. At the same time, to make it less supportable by me,” Skinner said.
Both procedural and practically, Skinner said “the pulse is very faint” for the concept this session. During his floor speech he said he would continue to fight for the bill next year. Before being elected this fall, he advocated for the law as a leader of Fairness West Virginia.
Next year is an election year. While Skinner acknowledged many elected officials like to skirt controversial issues during election session, he thinks everyone can see a vote that’s cast regardless of the time when it’s cast.
“There are very few people on either side who believe gay people should be discriminated against. However, can they push the button,” Skinner said. “Those are two different things.”
Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, chairs the committee that needed to take up Skinner’s bill. Last year the bill failed to leave his committee, and he promised to take up the measure this year. But Tuesday he said it didn’t look like there was enough support to pass the measure.
Wednesday after the floor session he said he was a little surprised Skinner asked him to pull the bill. He’s confident it would not have passed as it was introduced though.
“Our latest count was three votes short,” Skaff said. “That was the same count a week ago.”
There are 25 people on Skaff’s committee: 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans. It would have required 13 votes to pass.