House advances oddly titled sexual orientation bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va — The House Government Organization Committee passed a confusing bill Wednesday that would prohibit West Virginia cities and counties from enacting or enforcing non-discrimination laws that do not already exist on the state level.

Eight Republicans and three Democrats have joined in sponsoring HB 2881, named the West Virginia Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act. It passed the committee 16-8 and now goes to the full House.

Opponents say HB 2881 is misleading in its title because it is an attempt to block communities from passing ordinances that protect gays and homosexuals from discrimination.

“HB 2881 not only prohibits the rights of communities to govern themselves, but it also interferes with democracy in its purest form: city and town councils,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia.

The legislation would also invalidate ordinances in a half-dozen West Virginia communities that prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation.

West Virginia Municipal League executive director Lisa Dooley testified against the bill, saying it would usurp the authority of cities. “The preemption of local government laws is a slippery slope for this Legislature,” Dooley said.

The debate bogged down into a discussion about what the bill would actually do.

Arkansas’s legislature just passed a similar bill. Governor Asa Hutchinson allowed it to become law without his signature, raising the ire of gay rights groups.

A public hearing is scheduled for Friday morning on the bill.

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