CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — There’s “no way” the West Virginia Senate will consider a proposal to erase local ordinances that protect gay and transgender people from housing and employment discrimination, the second-ranking senator said Thursday.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael made the remarks Thursday to The Associated Press, a day after a panel in the GOP-led House of Delegates approved the bill.
“I haven’t read the bill, but if it’s characterized as a discriminatory bill, we’re not for it,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson. “We’re running an economic agenda here.”
The bill, nicknamed the West Virginia Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, would prohibit any local nondiscrimination ordinances stricter than state law.
West Virginia law doesn’t include gay, bisexual and transgender housing and employment protections. Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, has pushed for years to change that portion of state law.
Five cities have similar nondiscrimination ordinances: Charleston, Harpers Ferry, Morgantown, Huntington and Athens. The tiny town of Thurmond, population 5, just joined the group this month.
Del. Lynne Arvon, a Raleigh County Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said nondiscrimination rules should be uniform and predictable statewide. She denied that the bill is discriminatory.
“Let me be clear, I embrace the opinions and views of all West Virginians,” Arvon said in a written statement after the bill passed the committee. “And unlike those that are waging obscene attacks and threats of violence against me and my colleagues, I will be unwavering in my respect for all beliefs regardless if we agree or not.”
Del. Stephen Skinner, a Jefferson County Democrat and West Virginia’s first and only openly gay state lawmaker, called the bill “legislative gay bashing.” He applauded Carmichael’s comments Thursday.
“This bill is bad for business and sends a message of intolerance and bigotry,” Skinner said.
The House is holding a public hearing on the proposal Friday morning. It could be ready for a floor vote next week.
A similar bill became law this week in Arkansas after the state’s Republican-led General Assembly passed it.
Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson let it become law without his signature.