By Sarah Mansheim
On Friday, Feb. 27, the West Virginia House of Delegates postponed House Bill 2881 indefinitely after more than 40 people, including elected officials and clergy members, spoke out against the bill during a public hearing.
HB 2881, called “The West Virginia Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act,” seeks to prevent town and county governments from creating laws that prevent discrimination against people due to their sexual orientation. Law sponsors, including Greenbrier County Delegate Ray Canterbury, said that the law would make the state more business friendly by bringing all areas of West Virginia in line with state law, which provides no protections from work or housing discrimination due to their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) status.
Opponents of the bill said that it was a thinly veiled attempt to further discrimination against the LGBT population in West Virginia, as it would nullify any local decisions to outlaw such discrimination. Lewisburg is among the handful of West Virginia towns who have an LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance in place. Critics, including Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester, said the bill also limits the abilities of cities to self govern.
Manchester was unable to attend the public hearing due to illness, but he sent a written statement that was read during the public hearing on his behalf.
He wrote, in part, that the bill “represents a slap in the face of local governments seeking to do what is best for their citizens … Cloaking this bill in the smokescreen of eliminating confusion and encouraging economic development is a pathetic sleight of hand with words to mask its true purpose – to take away the power, at the local level, to say that a local community does not believe in discriminating against members of the LGBT community.
“Second, this bill attempts to thwart the natural checks and balances of local government. If the locally elected officials pass a non-discrimination ordinance and the electorate in that community is upset by it, they have the option to remove those elected officials from office at the next election and repeal the ordinance,” he wrote.
Manchester also argued that that bill is bad for business in areas like Lewisburg, who rely heavily on tourism. He said if the state is considered to be unfriendly to the LGBT population, then many businesses and tourists are unlikely to build companies or visit here.