This week from Charleston
Last week, the reaction to the proposed preemption of all local nondiscrimination ordinances in West Virginia was overwhelming. The deceptively named “West Virginia Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act” was introduced and jammed through a committee in the House of Delegates in a two-day period. The bill purported to promote uniformity among nondiscrimination laws. What it really proposed was rolling back nondiscrimination ordinances in the state’s largest cities, undoing decades of work. A retread of the Colorado law struck down by the Supreme Court in Romer v. Evans in 1996, this bill is being peddled across the country by organizations like the West Virginia Family Policy Council who have dressed it up as a “commerce” bill.
The backlash was swift. From all across the state, but particularly from the affected municipalities, there was a cry of discontent. The bill attacks to fundamental principals: the right to self-governance of municipalities and the need to ensure equal protections for LGBT citizens. Mayors and councils expressed their fury. At the public hearing two days later, the Mayor of Huntington, West Virginia’s second largest city and the home of Marshall University said his city doesn’t have “the time or luxury should we ever be inclined to exclude anybody from the table … We need all hands on deck.” Generation West Virginia, a statewide organization promoting young professionals across the state was unequivocal: “The last thing West Virginia needs is another reason for talented young professionals to leave the state.”
The good news is that West Virginia communities, businesses and citizens reacted in a way that reinforces what is great about this state. The bill was so repellant that the GOP Majority Leader in the State Senate said “We have no appetite for any type of a bill that discriminates, provides prejudice or preferences to any type of class in West Virginia.” At the public hearing on the bill, many invoked West Virginia’s state motto: Montani Semper Liberi or “Mountaineers are Always Free.” Opponents of the bill pointed out that the passage was in direct contradiction to the motto.
This cynical attempt to rollback protections struck many as more than petty; it is contradictory to our core values. As quickly as it began, the bill was sent back to committee where it was immediately killed in procedural move. That the opposition to the bill was bipartisan, both in the public sphere and ultimately in the legislature, and demonstrates a step forward for West Virginia.