We recently issued a vote report which details how your legislators voted on bills that were focal points for us during the 2021 session. In it you’ll see that beginning July 1 of this year, Virginia will have drastically expanded abortion coverage, legal possession and “home grow” of marijuana, and no more death penalty (just to name a few of the major developments).
The vote report also notes that public comment at bill hearings was virtual only, and that “on a number of occasions, opportunities to testify for or against legislation were denied or limited considerably.” You might say that here in Richmond there was a “virtually new take” on the legislative process, unique in our legislature’s 401-year history. Regrettably and to our dismay, there were indeed more than a few times when voices literally went unheard. Here are instances we witnessed firsthand:
- On January 18, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee met to discuss a variety of bills, including one with far-reaching consequences for abortion coverage. Two individuals from the Hispanic Catholic community were waiting on Zoom to testify on behalf of the unborn, but they were never called.
- On January 21 (on the eve of the day recognized as the “Day of Tears” in Virginia), the House Labor and Commerce Committee met to vote on the identical House version of the abortion coverage expansion bill. A VCC-invited individual who was waiting to speak was never called.
- On January 22, the House Rules Committee met to discuss various proposed studies, one of which was designed to explore mandated health plan coverage of in vitro fertilization (IVF). A VCC-invited speaker with expertise on the harms of IVF was left in the Zoom waiting room without acknowledgment.
- On January 28, the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee considered many pieces of legislation within the child welfare arena, including a bill to repeal conscience protections for faith-based child placing agencies. An individual in favor of preserving the conscience protections was in the virtual waiting room with hand raised, but was never called.
- On February 10, the House Privileges and Elections Committee met to discuss an array of proposed state constitutional amendments, including repeal of the provision that defines marriage as “a union between one man and one woman” (and replacement with differing language). A VCC-invited individual who had prepared a statement was never acknowledged even after being admitted into the Zoom waiting room.
- And on February 11, the House Labor and Commerce Committee considered the Senate version of the abortion expansion bill. Two speakers, including one who was not given the chance to testify to the Senate committee earlier in session, were not recognized or allowed the opportunity to speak.
Each of these speakers had expertise or personal experiences that would have been helpful for committee members to hear. They took the time to prepare remarks and attend the hearings. Sadly, they were not afforded even a minute to share their input.
We are highlighting these examples because the time these faithful citizens sacrificed out of their busy schedules matters deeply to us. Though they did not get to tell the committees what they wanted to say, their experiences tell an integral part of the story of the 2021 session – a dimension of the story that no annual vote report on its own can adequately or meaningfully convey.