Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Governor Signs Important Anti-Discrimination Bills Today

Today Governor Northam followed through on a promise he made to the VEA’s Fitz Turner Commissioners. After the blackface scandals that rocked the Governor’s office more than a year ago, VEA’s Fitz Turner Commissioners were invited to the Governor’s mansion to have a frank discussion about racism and discrimination in the Commonwealth. At that meeting, Governor Northam told our Commissioners that he was committed to bring stakeholders together to remove racist language from our Code and to strengthen Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws. The VEA has worked hard this session supporting these efforts. Today the Governor signed two bills that move us all in the right direction. Below is an excerpt from his press release. You can read the full release here.

Repealing Discriminatory Language Relating to Racial Segregation in Schools

Governor Northam signed House Bill 973, sponsored by Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, which repeals discriminatory language on Virginia’s books relating to racial segregation in Virginia schools. This bill is identical to Senate Bill 600.

Governor Northam established the Commission to Examine Racial Inequality in Virginia Law to study the Virginia Acts of Assembly, Code of Virginia, and administrative regulations and identify racist and discriminatory language that may no longer have the effect of law, but remains on Virginia’s books. The Commission identified nearly 100 instances of discriminatory language in its interim report, and will continue to make recommendations to address laws that were intended to or could have the effect of promoting or enabling racial discrimination or inequity. This is one of several bills passed during the 2020 legislative session to remove this language.

“During the Jim Crow era, racism and discrimination were written into laws that were used to enforce segregation and inequality across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Words matter, and there is no reason for this overtly discriminatory language to remain on our books. I am proud to sign this bill to move Virginia forward.” 

“As an educator who has spent fifteen years teaching the Constitution, its values, and Jim Crow’s perversion of both, I am humbled to have played a small part in removing some of these last stains of the Jim Crow era from Virginia’s code,” said Delegate VanValkenburg. “This is an important step in the direction of justice for communities that have long suffered the injustices of racial segregation.”

Banning Racial Discrimination on the Basis of Hair

Governor Northam signed House Bill 1514, sponsored by Delegate Delores McQuinn, which bans discrimination on the basis of hair. The bill clarifies that when the law bans racial discrimination “on the basis of race,” that includes “traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.” This bill is identical to Senate Bill 50.

“It’s pretty simple—if we send children home from school because their hair looks a certain way, or otherwise ban certain hairstyles associated with a particular race—that is discrimination,” said Governor Northam. “This is not only unacceptable and wrong, it is not what we stand for in Virginia. This bill will make our Commonwealth more equitable and welcoming for all.”

“A person’s hair is a core part of their identity,” said Delegate McQuinn. “Nobody deserves to be discriminated against simply due to the hair type they were born with, or the way in which they choose to wear it. The acceptance of one’s self is the key to accepting others.”