This week at the 2018 Virginia General Assembly-Week 3
This week in Richmond Conference staff fought hard against sweeping abortion expansion legislation, and threats to religious liberty, and for legislation that would allow immigrants who meet strict criteria to receive temporary driving permits, provide better public protections through strengthened gun laws, and broaden educational opportunities for low income preschoolers.
As the session continues, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond invite you to join them and the Conference as we pray with and for legislators at Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth. Please join Virginia’s bishops, public officials, fellow Catholics and people of all faiths at this annual evening prayer liturgy, held at the mid-point of the legislative session, on Thursday, February 15th at 5pm at Richmond’s historic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. A wine and appetizers reception follows. Sign up here.
Here’s a look at how our issues fared this week:
Protecting pro-life laws: On Thursday, sweeping legislation (SB 910, McClellan) that would have repealed virtually all pro-life protections was defeated in the Senate Education and Health Committee by an 8-7 vote. The bill would have eliminated all procedures for obtaining informed written consent prior to abortion, repealed hard-fought and hard-won health and safety standards for abortion facilities, expanded who can perform abortions, expanded which third-trimester abortions are allowed, removed pro-life protections on health care plans sold on ACA exchanges operating in Virginia, eliminated the crime of illegally performing an abortion, and asserted that women have “a fundamental right to obtain an abortion.” Conference staff testified in strong opposition to the bill.
Threats to Religious Liberty: A Conference-opposed bill (HB 1481, Delegate Filler-Corn) that would have required health plans to cover contraceptives and sterilizations was defeated 5-3 (vote link not available) in a House Commerce and Labor subcommittee. In an identical 5-3 vote (vote link not available), the subcommittee also defeated a Conference-opposed bill (HB 1445, Hope) that would have required health plan coverage of undefined and potentially broadly interpreted “medically necessary services.” The Conference also opposed a bill (SB 423, Wexton) that would include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected categories in housing law because the measure could restrict the ability of faith-based housing providers to follow their beliefs about marriage and human sexuality. The bill passed the Senate 29-10 (vote link not available). The Conference will continue to oppose the bill in the House.
Driving privileges for immigrants: A proposal to allow Virginians to apply for driving permits regardless of their immigration status (SB 621, Surovell) failed in a 7–6 vote in Senate Transportation. The legislation provided that to be eligible for the permit, drivers must pass a driving test, prove they have paid state taxes and pay an application fee. The one-year permit would not be valid identification for federal, voting or public benefit purposes, and would in no way allow the holder to evade federal law. The Conference will continue to fight for our community members’ ability to drive to church and work as the bill gets another hearing in the House of Delegates.
Guns in places of worship: Current law bans a person from carrying a gun or other dangerous weapon to a house of worship while a religious gathering is being held, unless the person carrying the weapon has a “good and sufficient reason.” Conference-opposed legislation (SB 372, Chafin) that would repeal this current law passed the Senate earlier this week in a 21-18 vote. The Conference will continue to oppose this bill in the House.
Background checks on gun transfers: Proposals to expand background checks on firearm transfers (HB 140, Levine; HB 717, Plum; HB 721, Plum; HB 977, Guzman; HB 1373, Plum) all failed in 4–2 votes in a House Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee. Similar bills have already been rejected by a Senate committee. The Conference supports enforcing laws that prevent convicted criminals, domestic abusers and mentally ill people from obtaining firearms.
Assistance for pre-K students: In a 16-0 vote earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee approved Conference-supported legislation (SB 172, Stanley) to make low-income pre-K students eligible for the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits program. Thousands of Virginia students receive the financial assistance they need to attend Catholic and other nonpublic K-12 schools through this vital program. Virginia can help many more children if this bill passes. Urge your senator to vote “Yes” on this bill when the Senate acts early next week.
Protecting Virginia’s coastline: The Conference supports the Alternative Energy and Coastal Protection Act, which would protect Virginia’s coast from steadily rising tides, invest in energy efficiency programs and provide critical economic development in Southwest Virginia through funds raised by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. SB 696 (Lewis) was rejected 8–7 by Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, but companion bills have yet to be heard in the House of Delegates.