Conference celebrates 10 years; Senate passes religious liberty bill; Committees protect past pro-life gains
The Conference thanks all who attended Catholic Advocacy Day in Richmond on Thursday. Some 150 Catholics from across the Commonwealth came to hear from Bishop DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Loverde of Arlington, caucus with other Catholics from their districts, and meet with their elected representatives or staff to lobby on issues affecting life, liberty, justice, and the common good.
Executive Director Jeff Caruso recognized the Bishops for their vision, foresight, and collaboration in forming the Virginia Catholic Conference 10 years ago and noted some of the gains made by the Conference and its grassroots advocates in its first decade. The Bishops expressed gratitude for Jeff, the Conference’s founding executive director, Conference staff, and the advocacy network. The Conference looks forward to building upon the foundation of its first 10 years in the decades to follow. Bishop DiLorenzo also highlighted the importance of being both a faithful servant and a faithful citizen, saying, “All Catholics are called to be good citizens, and good citizens act; they do not just sit back and let things happen.” This advocacy on behalf of the poor and vulnerable is one way we as Catholics “accompany those without hope,” said Bishop Loverde.
After legislative meetings, the day ended at St. Peter’s Church with Mass, lunch, and a debriefing for participants.
Here’s how some of our legislative priorities fared this week:
Preventing Taxpayer-Funded Abortion on Demand: Two years ago, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation (the “abortion opt-out provision”) prohibiting health plans operating on the health exchange in Virginia from offering coverage for abortion on demand. Conference-opposed legislation (SB 769, Senator McEachin) that would have repealed this protection against taxpayer-funded abortion on demand was defeated 8-7 by the Senate Education and Health Committee. The NAY’s reflect the Conference’s position.
Viewing an Ultrasound: The Conference opposed two bills (SB 733, Senator Locke; and SB 920, Senator Wexton) considered by the Senate Education and Health Committee that would have diluted the requirement in the informed-consent statute that a doctor perform a transabdominal ultrasound at least 24 hours prior to an abortion and offer the mother a chance to view the ultrasound. SB 733 was defeated 8-7. SB 920 (relating more narrowly to the 24-hour requirement) was defeated 9-6. In both cases, the NAY’s reflect the Conference’s position.
Restricting Capital Punishment: Conference-supported legislation (SB 1296, Senator McEachin) would have limited Virginia’s death penalty to cases in which there is biological, DNA, or video evidence that connects the defendant to the offense. The measure failed 10-3 in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. The NAY’s reflect the Conference’s position. Virginia is second only to Texas in the number of executions performed over the last few decades. The Conference opposes the use of the death penalty in the Commonwealth and supported this bill to curb executions.
Seclusion and Restraint Regulations: Conference-supported legislation (SB 782, Senator Favola) would require the state Board of Education to adopt regulations consistent with U.S. Department of Education guidelines on the use of seclusion and restraint techniques in Virginia’s elementary and secondary public schools. Currently, there are no regulations for the use of these dangerous behavioral support techniques, which are disproportionately used on students with physical and intellectual disabilities. The use of seclusion and restraint has resulted in bodily and psychological injury to Virginia students, and schools currently have no obligation to inform parents when seclusion and restraint practices are utilized. The proposed regulations would require the use of evidence–based behavioral support techniques. The bill passed the Senate in a 35-4 vote.
Protecting Chaplains: The Conference supported legislation (SB 690, Senators Black and Barker), ensuring that state government officials could not censor the religious content of sermons made by chaplains of the Virginia National Guard or the Virginia Defense Force, passed unanimously in the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee and on the Senate floor. Parties with various perspectives on the bill agreed to a helpful amendment that provided important clarifications and alleviated concerns that had been expressed when this initiative was considered last year.