(The Center Square) – Legislation that would allow public sector workers to speak out against their workplace policy proposals in public hearings has been passed by both houses of the Virginia General Assembly and will be sent at the office of Governor Glenn Youngkin.
House Bill 384, sponsored by Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, passed with bipartisan support: 72-27 in the House and 26-14 in the Senate. The governor should sign the legislation.
The bill would ensure that public sector workers do not lose their right to free speech when commenting on current or proposed policies of public institutions in a public hearing. This would apply even if they object to a policy proposal in their workplace. The law is supposed to protect the “freedoms of conscience and expression” of workers.
If Youngkin signs the legislation, employers would not be allowed to fire or penalize workers who criticize the policies at such hearings. According to the bill, these hearings provide time for public comment, at which time the employee speaks on their own behalf as a member of the public.
Questions about the constitutionality of punishing a public official for speaking out against proposed policies in a public hearing erupted last year when a Loudoun County gym instructor was suspended from his job after criticizing a proposed transgender policy that was eventually adopted.
While speaking during the public comment period of a school board meeting, teacher Tanner Cross said he would refuse to call students by their preferred gender pronouns if the pronoun did not match the student’s biological sex. He said he would refuse to assert that a biological boy could be a girl or that a biological girl could be a boy.
Cross sued the school, arguing that the school violated his constitutional right to free speech. Cross and the school reached a settlement, which allowed him to keep his job and prevented the school from retaliating against him for voicing his views on politics.
The law would not apply to speech that is not protected by the First Amendment, such as anything that incites violence, is obscene, defamatory or fraudulent or discloses privileged and confidential information.