CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate President Mitch Carmichael has been described in recent weeks as supporting a nondiscrimination bill. Then he was characterized late last week as being against the bill’s running.
About noon today, Carmichael said he is still considering nondiscrimination legislation, although he cast doubt on whether a version co-sponsored by the majority leader and majority whip will run. .
“We’re in the listening mode. We’re in the learning and listening mode,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson.
He said he is against discrimination but described concerns with the particulars of a bill that was introduced Friday.
“Our caucus stands completely, firmly on the side of nondiscrimination. No discrimination. Hate has no place in West Virginia,” he said.
“Now, this bill has some issues with it as we’ve been going through and reviewing it thoroughly. There are some problems associated with it that I don’t think this language is the right bill and perhaps maybe not the right time. But we will review it thoughtfully and thoroughly as we will all pieces of legislation.”
The bill has bipartisan sponsorship. The lead sponsor is Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha. Additional sponsors include senators Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, and Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell.
The bill aims to prevent housing or employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. For the most part, the bill just adds those to current law against discrimination on the basis of factors such as race, ethnicity, age or disability.
It has been referred to Senate Judiciary.
“We want to be inclusive but we want to make sure our religious liberties are protected and that people feel we’re not encroaching upon or trampling on the religious liberties of God-fearing people in West Virginia,” Carmichael said.
“So it is a balancing act, it’s a learning process, and we’re trying to do the right thing. But it’s not something you can immediately take a position on without reviewing the specifics of the bill.”
Carmichael has been navigating his position on a nondiscrimination bill for weeks.
It started when he was a panelist for Fairness West Virginia, a lobbying group for LGBTQ issues, stating generally that he is against discrimination. Fairness put out a statement thanking Carmichael “for supporting LGBTQ Nondiscrimination.”
Carmichael then moderated a separate panel of church leaders from his district. The panelists expressed concern about religious freedom, the possibility of lawsuits and effects on small businesses. Supporters of a nondiscrimination bill also attended and made comments at a podium.
This past Friday, a group of pastors in the district Carmichael represents put out a statement with a headline in all capital letters that Carmichael had confirmed that the nondiscrimination bill “was dead in the Senate.”
Their statement said that at the end of a recent meeting, Carmichael confirmed to pastors and church members that “I am against this legislation and will not run it in the Senate.”
Fairness West Virginia then responded on Friday afternoon, saying Carmichael had backed down from promising to consider the bill. “We’re extremely disappointed that Sen. Carmichael is bowing to a small, vocal minority,” Fairness Director Andrew Schneider stated.
Carmichael said he’s growing frustrated by having his position defined by groups involved with the issue.
“I have been very frustrated by both the opponents and the advocates of this bill for publicizing a perception of a position that I have taken on this bill. That is not the case. I am in a learning and listening mode as anyone should be on this bill.
“This particular bill, this particular bill has issues and problems and definitely it will not be the bill that would be adopted in this specific language if one were to be adopted.”
He said he isn’t in position to describe what form a bill should take. Generally, he said the introduced bill doesn’t do enough to consider religious liberties.
“Everyone generally agrees, most reasonable people agree, that no one should be fired from their job or denied basic housing rights because of their sexual orientation. That just offends the basic civil rights of all people,” he said.
“Now when we get into public accommodations and religious liberties, which is another component of this bill, we have to take a thorough, hard look at that.”
Carmichael’s latest remarks came after a press conference of the Senate’s Republican majority to highlight goals for this year’s legislative session. Carmichael said the top priority is jobs, and more senators touted economic development efforts.
Not discussed during the press conference was the nondiscrimination bill. Some business groups have expressed support, saying such a bill would reflect on goals to promote diversity.
“You’ve absolutely right in that some big businesses view it as a net positive for growth in West Virginia, and frankly some small businesses view it as a net negative,” Carmichael said.