The House of Delegates and the Senate are in a race to complete consideration of all legislation filed in their respective chambers as we approach crossover on February 10, after which each chamber may only consider legislation from the other chamber.
This week saw some much needed action on anti-human trafficking legislation as SB 1188 passed the Senate. Human trafficking is a global issue, and the United States-and the Commonwealth-is not immune from this modern-day slavery.
Sunday marks the first International Day of Prayer against Human Trafficking. In a February 3rd press conference announcing the event at the Vatican, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told journalists, “Our awareness must expand and extend to the very depths of this evil and its farthest reaches – from awareness to prayer, from prayer to solidarity, and from solidarity to concerted action – until slavery and trafficking are no more.” On behalf of the Bishops, the Conference invites all to join in prayerful solidarity to end the scourge of human trafficking around the world.
Here’s how some of the Conference’s priorities fared this week:
Human trafficking: Conference-supported legislation, (SB 1188, Sen. Obenshain) would create new felonies for trafficking of persons for commercial sexual activity. The bill provides that any person who recruits, transports, harbors, receives, provides, obtains, isolates, maintains, patronizes, solicits, or entices a minor to engage in commercial sexual activity is guilty of a Class 2 felony, the punishment for which includes a mandatory minimum sentence that is based on the age of the minor. The bill also provides that any person who engages in the same conduct with any other person knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that coercion or fraud will be used to cause such person to engage in commercial sexual activity is guilty of a Class 2 felony. Finally, the bill provides that any person who receives money or its equivalent that he knows or has reason to know was derived from the trafficking of persons for commercial sexual activity is guilty of a Class 3 felony. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, and the House is expected to pass a similar bill next week.
Compounding execution drugs: Introduced on behalf of the McAuliffe Administration, (SB 1393 Sen. Saslaw), a bill opposed by the Virginia Catholic Conference, would authorize Virginia’s Department of Corrections to contract with companies to compound drugs from scratch to use for lethal injection executions. On Thursday, the Senate Education and Health Committee voted 10-2 in favor of advancing the bill to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, where it will be considered Monday morning. A NAY vote reflects the Conference’s position. Please click here to let your Senator know you oppose this measure! Lethal injection drugs are in short supply because of manufacturers’ increasing unwillingness to provide drugs used for executions. SB 1393 is designed to “solve” this problem and to shield from public scrutiny much of the process and the identities of the companies that would be involved in the drug compounding. The Conference is concerned that its passage could lead to botched executions similar to recent ones in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Arizona. The Conference also believes that as long as Virginia’s death penalty system continues, it must be transparent and fully accountable to the public. Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will review Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol. At the very least, Virginia should not proceed with SB 1393 before the Supreme Court issues guidance on Oklahoma’s protocol that could also impact our state’s practices.
Concealed handguns at schools: On Monday, Conference-opposed legislation (SB 1132, Sen. Garrett) to allow concealed handguns on public, private, and religious school property outside of designated school hours was defeated 18-20 on the Senate floor. A NAY vote reflects the Conference’s position. Private school advocates have worked closely with the legislature over the years to create a law that ensures schools remain safe learning environments while providing private schools the flexibility to hire armed security to protect students and teachers if they wish to do so. The Conference and Catholic school officials support keeping the current law in place unchanged.
Seclusion and restraint regulations: Conference-supported legislation (HB 1443, Del. Dickie Bell) 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 House unanimously. A companion bill, (SB 782, Sen. Favola) passed the Senate last week in a 35-4 vote.