The Virginia Senate, in a 22-18 vote Tuesday, passed a bill that would allow student groups at higher-educational institutions more easily discriminate in who they admit as members.
Four Democrats, including three from Northern Virginia, allied themselves with 18 of 20 Republicans in the upper chamber to pass SB1074, which would prohibit public institutions of higher education from restricting student organizations that discriminate against potential members based on their religious, philosophical or political views. Specifically, such institutions would be barred from denying funding, resources or access to resources based on the content of a student group's speech or views.
The four Democrats voting in favor of the bill were: Sens. Phil Puckett (D-Norton, Radford, Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, Tazewell, Smyth counties), Chuck Colgan (D-Manassas, Manassas Park, Prince William Co.), Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City, Fairfax Co.) and George Barker (D-Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William counties).
Two Republicans – Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City, York, New Kent, King and Queeen, Surry, Isle of Wight counties) and John Watkins (R-Richmond, Powhatan, Chesterfield counties) – voted with the chamber’s remaining Democrats against the bill.
Under the proposed legislation, organizations could claim religious, political or philosophical objections to admitting LGBT members, without fear of reprisal from school administration, thus allowing them to discriminate against prospective members.
Since passing the Senate, SB1074 has been referred to the House Committee on Education. A similar bill, HB1617, passed the House of Delegates Jan. 31 by a vote of 80-19, with many Democrats, including several from Northern Virginia, voting in favor, despite opposition from the state's primary LGBT-rights group, Equality Virginia.
HB1617, which employes the same language as SB1074, passed out of the Senate Committee on Education and Health by a 7-4 margin Thursday, with Barker and all the panel’s Republicans voting to move it to the full chamber, where it is expected to pass by a similar margin on its third reading next week.
After each respective chamber passes the other chamber's bill, one version will be submitted to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who is expected to sign the measure into law.
[Photo 1: Sen. George Barker (Courtesy of the Virginia General Assembly website). Photo 2: Sen. Chuck Colgan (Courtesy of the Virginia General Assembly).]