The Virginia Catholic Conference wishes to thank all who came to Richmond on Thursday to lobby their legislators on issues important to Catholics as part of our annual Catholics in the Capital day. The opportunity for our grassroots members to communicate with legislators is the epitome of the faithful citizenship we are called to by our faith!
Thursday evening, many of those who had met with their delegates and senators traveled to Richmond’s historic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart to join Virginia’s bishops, members of the Governor’s staff and cabinet, legislators from both parties and others for the 2nd annual Virginia Vespers, in which we prayed for the needs of the Commonwealth. Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond was the celebrant and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington delivered the homily, urging legislators and others to find unity and common cause in this age of bitter division and adversarial politics. After Vespers, participants joined the bishops for a wine and cheese reception.
The Conference thanks all for a successful event and looks forward to next year’s Virginia Vespers!
That same afternoon, the House and Senate held floor debates and votes on their respective versions of the budget. Members of conference committees from both chambers will be appointed next week to resolve differences between the House and Senate budgets.
Here’s a look at how Conference priorities fared this week:
Defunding the Abortion Industry: HB 2264 (Del. Cline) – a top Conference priority – passed the House in a 60-33 vote last Tuesday. On Thursday, it passed the Senate Education & Health Committee 8-7. The bill would divert state funds away from the abortion industry. The full Senate will vote on it early next week.
Conforming Virginia to the Hyde Amendment: On Thursday, the House approved a budget amendment offered by Del. Bob Marshall that would prohibit Medicaid funds from being used for abortions that do not fall under one of the three exceptions allowed by the federal Hyde Amendment (rape, incest and life of the mother) in a 60-34 vote. Currently, Virginia funds abortions beyond those required by federal law. If Marshall’s amendment passes as part of the final budget, it would bring Virginia into line with 32 other states and the District of Columbia.
Religious Liberty: In a 21-19 vote, the full Senate approved SB 1324 (Sen. Carrico) to protect the right of religious organizations, including charities and schools, to follow the teaching that marriage is the union of a man and a woman without being penalized by state government. The legislation – among the Conference’s top priorities – will be considered next week in the House, which has already passed identical legislation (HB 2025, Del. Freitas).
Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants: Conference-supported legislation, HB 2020 (Del. Villanueva), has passed the House in a 70-27 vote. It would allow various designations of legally-present residents of Virginia to obtain temporary driving privileges.
Immigrant Communities: A Conference-opposed bill would force local police and sheriff’s departments to take responsibility for enforcing federal immigration law. HB 2000 (Del. Poindexter) passed the House in a 63-33 vote. We stand with the Commonwealth’s police chiefs in opposing this bill because it would strain local law enforcement agencies’ budgets, jeopardize their relationships with the communities they serve and make those same communities less safe.
Welcoming Refugees: HB 2002 (Del. Poindexter) attempts to place redundant regulations on refugee resettlement agencies, such as Catholic Charities, to report statistical information about their ministries’ activities to the state. Much of this information is already provided regularly to both the Commonwealth and to the federal government, but this law adds additional red tape to the resettlement process while doing nothing to address fears related to national security. After passing the House, the Conference-opposed bill was approved by the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee in an 8-7 party-line vote. The full Senate will vote on the bill as soon as Tuesday of next week. Please stay tuned for an alert!
Education Opportunities for At-Risk Children: In a 6-4 vote, the House Finance subcommittee approved Conference-supported SB 1427 (Sen. Stanley) to make low-income pre-K students eligible for the Education Improvement Scholarships tax credit program. The full House Finance Committee will consider the bill Monday.