Stay tuned for GSA bill in Senate

In case there was any doubt about which generation is providing leadership: Due to continuing legislative efforts to deny GLBTQ and allied youth their constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression and association, a new statewide grassroots youth coalition has been founded. The Commonwealth Education Equality Virginia Initiative was founded in response to HB 1308, the second attempt in two years by the Virginia General Assembly to deny youth the support they need by interfering with Gay/Straight Alliances. Read the CEEVA press release in the previous post, and please support these youth who are standing up for themselves. They need a little money for startup expenses.

HB 1308 was passed by the House, 70-29. Here is the vote roster:

YEAS–Abbitt, Albo, Armstrong, Athey, Barlow, Bell, Bulova, Byron, Callahan, Carrico, Cline, Cole, Cosgrove, Cox, Crockett-Stark, Dudley, Fralin, Frederick, Gear, Gilbert, Griffith, Hamilton, Hargrove, Hogan, Howell, A.T., Hugo, Hurt, Iaquinto, Ingram, Janis, Joannou, Johnson, Jones, S.C., Kilgore, Landes, Lewis, Lingamfelter, Lohr, Marsden, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., May, McQuigg, Miller, Moran, Morgan, Nixon, Nutter, O’Bannon, Oder, Orrock, Peace, Phillips, Purkey, Putney, Rapp, Reid, Rust, Saxman, Scott, E.T., Sherwood, Suit, Tata, Valentine, Wardrup, Ware, R.L., Welch, Wittman, Wright, Mr. Speaker–70.

NAYS–Alexander, Amundson, BaCote, Bowling, Brink, Caputo, Dance, Ebbin, Eisenberg, Englin, Hall, Hull, Jones, D.C., McClellan, McEachin, Melvin, Plum, Poisson, Scott, J.M., Shannon, Shuler, Sickles, Spruill, Toscano, Tyler, Waddell, Ward, Ware, O., Watts–29.

Delegate May actually co-patroned this bill last year, so the fact that he only voted for it this time represents a marginal improvement. He will benefit from continuing to hear factual information from his constituents.

Delegate Rust for some reason thinks that the bill has nothing to do with Gay/Straight Alliances, despite patron Matt Lohr’s explicit statement that his intention was to make it possible to prohibit school clubs “based on one’s sexual preference and orientation”. Delegate Rust’s position seems to be that, since in fact no school clubs “promote sexual behavior for unmarried minor students,” the bill does nothing.

This strikes us as a pretty weak argument. The fact that a bill is unneccessary, and that the problem it purports to solve doesn’t exist, is often cited as justification for voting against it. In fact, this was precisely the reason given by Delegates Oder and Suit for voting down a bill to give localities more control over local land use decisions. As cited in the Washington Post, Delegate Oder said, “I’m just not convinced this is necessary.” Delegate Suit added that there is no need for new legislation to authorize powers that local governments already have. “This can already be done,” she said. “Chesapeake has been doing it this way for years.”

Delegate Poisson had this to say about why he voted no:

“But there has also been a long list of bills that aren’t designed to fix problems but rather to create them.

One is HB 1308 that authorizes school boards to prohibit the use of school facilities by any student club or other student group that encourages or promotes sexual activity by unmarried minor students. School boards, however, already have that authority.

I can assure you that if our local school board allowed any student group to advocate illegal activity, including premarital sex, I would be the first to object. This bill was introduced simply to portray opponents as promoting sexual activity. I viewed this as political grandstanding at its worst, and so I voted against the bill.”

This is exactly right, and furthermore, the purpose of that dishonest portrayal is to set a trap for uninformed principals who would be led to believe that they could lawfully deny students the right to establish and maintain Gay/Straight Alliances or similar clubs. Any such denial will result in an expensive lawsuit that the school district unfortunate enough to fall victim to this trap will lose.

Introducing legislation at the state level that would encourage the violation of federal law seems to us to be a very bad idea, and putting hapless school districts at the risk of ending up in court seems to us to be more than nothing. Adding a provision giving the Attorney General discretion to defend school districts in these inevitable lawsuits only highlights the fact that this is a deliberate attempt to violate federal law.

HB 1308 will now be heard by the Senate Education and Health Committee, possibly the morning of Thursday, February 16. Last year, a virtually identical bill was defeated in this committee 9-6. The vote (to kill the bill) last year:

YEAS–Potts (Chairman), Saslaw, Lambert, Houck, Lucas, Howell, Quayle, Edwards, Whipple–9.

NAYS–Martin, Newman, Bolling, Ruff, Mims, Blevins–6.

Bolling and Mims have been replaced on this committee by Rerras and Bell.

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