Governor outlines ‘opportunity’ agenda

By Victoria Zawitkowski
and Michael Melkonian

Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In a move he said would boost the state’s economy, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is asking legislators to remove the requirement that Virginia women get an ultrasound before having an abortion and to “create a more inclusive environment for LGBT Virginians and business owners.”

McAuliffe announced his “full equal opportunity agenda” on Monday, calling on the General Assembly to:

• Remove references to “husband and wife” or “man and woman” in Virginia laws about marriage. Such terms would be replaced with the word “spouse” now that same-sex marriage is legal in the state.

• Raise the penalty for businesses that violate Virginia’s equal pay laws. To ensure equal wages for men and women, businesses would have to pay at least twice the lost wages of the employee.

• Repeal a 2012 state law that requires women to obtain an ultrasound before having an abortion.

McAuliffe also wants the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to help public colleges and universities update their sexual misconduct policies by July. And he wants companies to allow employees who are survivors of sexual or domestic violence to leave work for counseling or other treatment.

The governor, who took office a year ago and promptly issued an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the state workforce, said his proposals would be good for the economy.

“In a new Virginia economy, we need to be able to attract the best and brightest entrepreneurs here, build a workforce for the 21st century and ensure that the next generation of Virginians has greater opportunity to succeed,” McAuliffe said.

“All that depends on having a business-friendly environment where every Virginian is treated equally and fairly under the law, no matter their background, gender, or whom they love.”

Liberal advocacy groups applauded McAuliffe’s proposals.

“We commend the governor for prioritizing women’s health care access and economic opportunity,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA.

“We think it is incredibly important that the government get out of the way of interfering in the doctor-patient relationship and insure that women have equal economic opportunity to support their family and their children.”

Scholl said women are the breadwinners in hundreds of thousands of Virginia families. “If women aren’t being paid fairly and are struggling to get by in low-wage jobs, then Virginia families are struggling.”

But social conservatives criticized the governor’s announcement. In a press release, the Family Foundation of Virginia said McAuliffe’s proposals show that he has no idea how to improve Virginia’s economy.

“This list seems to have been pulled off of the same campaign brochures Democrats used as they lost election after election in November,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation.

“There is nothing here that will attract small businesses, the heart and soul of a growing economy, or encourage businesses that are seeking a fair tax or regulatory environment to come to Virginia. No one who truly wants to grow Virginia’s economy can take this governor seriously.”

Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.