Local Commentary

Editorial: Richmond’s Big Step Backward

This week marked the first serious blow in years to the prospects for continued economic growth in Northern Virginia. Reversing the policy of recent years, a key committee in the Virginia State Senate killed a bill Monday to protect public employees from arbitrary discrimination.

Senate Bill 263, co-sponsored by Sen. Donald McEachin and Sen. Adam Ebbin, confirming that no state or local employee should be subject to discrimination on the job, was defeated in the committee by an 8-7 vote.

The extraordinary step backward, engineered less than three weeks after the newly-constituted, Republican-controlled Senate was sworn in, threatens to send shutters through the entire pro-development apparatus of the state. It could be a deal-killer of extraordinary proportions in the state’s efforts to continue attracting major Fortune 500 job-creating, wealth-creating companies to the state, not to mention an essential ingredient in that effort, top notch educators and educational institutions.

It is not just that the new Senate voted its conservative prejudices, it’s that the policy represents a reversal, a repudiation of what had become an established element of a state eager to compete in the global economy of the 21st century.

In an astonishing development, past legislative policy that had protected public employees from discrimination on the job, whether based on age, race, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation, was abolished by Monday’s vote.

Thus, no one, under present law in Virginia, is protected from being fired on the basis of any of these factors.

This is just the beginning of what to expect from the new state government in Richmond. Last November’s election shifted the control of the Senate from Democratic to Republican control, giving a particularly-conservative GOP control over all three governing bodies – the Senate, the House and the Governor’s mansion.

But the unintended consequence of this development is its chilling effect on commerce at all levels. In this Internet age, it takes no time at all for the best businesses, the best scholars, the best scientists, the best creative innovators, the best educators to simply take out their Sharpies and cross Virginia off their lists.

We, the people of Virginia, are all the losers, even though it may be hard to calculate full impact of this. All that talent simply stops showing up at our borders, while quietly others already here begin making preparations to leave.

Virginia should hardly want to emulate the economies of other states that have remained in the grip of political elements still seething over the outcome of the Civil War. The long march here to end overt racial discrimination, to begin developing a first-rate educational system that not only served our existing population but began attracting the brightest from elsewhere, and subsequently drew important businesses to follow them, was seriously tripped up this week.

Of course, most fundamentally, discrimination is a profound moral wrong. But our new state legislature may be hurting far more than civil rights by its actions.