Lawmakers Take Aim at Juvenile Justice Board Over Discrimination Policy 

After the Virginia Board of Juvenile Justice enacted a policy protecting homosexuals from discrimination, the governor and some Republicans in the General Assembly want to clarify the board's policy-making abilities.

Legislation introduced Jan. 11 by Republican Sen. Thomas Norment, at the behest of Gov. Bob McDonnell, strikes language from the state code that seems to give the State Board of Juvenile Justice leeway to adopt regulations as it sees fit.

The bill is an attempt to streamline the state code so that the "duties of the Board in practice match the duties of the Board in the law," McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell says in an emailed statement.

But some people worry that the bill may limit the board's authority. And the proposal was introduced a day after a controversial decision by the board to uphold a department regulation that bans sexual-orientation-based discrimination against inmates.

For the past year, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the juvenile justice board have engaged in a tug of war over whether the board has the authority to designate protected classes of residents.

Cuccinelli advised board members that only the General Assembly can do so. The board did so anyway on Jan. 10, voting 5-1 to ban discrimination at its facilities based on sexual orientation.

It's difficult not to see the proposal as a direct response to that vote, says Liane Rozzell, executive director of Families and Allies of Virginia's Youth, which applauded the board's decision. Rozzell also notes that the bill could limit the board's ability to make policy and monitor the department's effectiveness.

The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 9 by a vote of 35-5 and now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.

As for whether the board should be able to make policy, Justin Wilson, a board member for the past six years, say it's a no-brainer. "Getting rid of that authority would be a solution in search of a problem," he says

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