Virginia House and Senate Committees are wrapping up their work as they race to hear all the bills assigned to them in advance of crossover, which is this coming Tuesday. After this point, the House of Delegates may only consider bills that have passed the Senate and vice versa.
Here’s a look at how some of the Conference’s priorities fared this week:
Defunding Abortion Providers: Conference-supported legislation, HB 1090 (Delegate Cline), would prohibit the state from contracting with, or providing a grant to, any abortion provider that performs abortions outside of the three Hyde Amendment exceptions (life of the mother, rape and incest). The legislation would also divert public health funds away from the abortion industry toward vital community health centers. The bill was passed in a 15-7 vote by the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions. The House Appropriations Committee also advanced the bill on a 15-7 vote (YEA reflects the Conference’s position in both cases). The bill will go to the floor for a vote by the full House early next week.
Electric Chair Expansion Bill: Conference-opposed legislation, HB 815 (Delegate Miller), would require the state to electrocute death row prisoners when the Department of Corrections certifies that lethal injection drugs are not available. The House passed the measure in a 65-34 vote after Delegate Miller delivered a floor speech about the horrific crimes perpetrated by Ricky Gray, who is set to be executed March 16 (NAY reflects the Conference’s position). Noting the teaching of Pope Francis and his predecessors, as well as our bishops, the Conference opposes use of the death penalty. The bill will now be taken up in the Senate.
Protecting Religious Liberty: HB 773 (Delegate Gilbert), the Conference’s top religious liberty initiative, would prohibit the government from discriminating against ministries and individuals because of their beliefs about marriage and human sexuality. It is modeled after the USCCB-endorsed First Amendment Defense Act being considered by Congress. The bill was passed by the House General Laws Committee on a 13-7 vote (YEA reflects the Conference’s position).
Protecting the Privacy of Public School Students: Conference-supported legislation, HB 781 (Delegate Cole), would have required that public school bathrooms, locker rooms and showers accessible by multiple students at the same time could only be used by students of the same biological sex. The bill was defeated in an 8-14 vote by the House General Laws Committee (YEA reflects the Conference’s position).
Caring for Refugees: Conference-opposed legislation, HB 494 (Delegate Bob Marshall), would have prevented state agencies from providing assistance for refugee resettlement unless the refugee has been certified by multiple federal agencies as not posing a threat to national security. The bill is unnecessary and redundant because refugees already undergo an extensive multiple step process of multiple background checks, screenings and security clearances by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the State Department before being resettled in the United States. The bill was passed in a 15-7 vote by the House General Laws Committee and referred to the Appropriations Committee Health and Human Resources Subcommittee (NAY reflects the Conference’s position). Fortunately, the subcommittee tabled (defeated) the bill earlier this afternoon in a voice vote.
Protecting our Coast: Conference-supported legislation, HB 351 (Delegate Villanueva), would fund coastal flooding mitigation projects in the Hampton Roads area, energy efficiency programs for low- and middle-income households and economic development assistance for communities affected by the reduction in the use of fossil fuels, via proceeds from the auction of carbon emissions permits. The House Commerce and Labor Special Subcommittee on Energy tabled the bill by a voice vote. The Conference supported this bill as a response to Pope Francis’ call to address climate change and growing concern of Hampton Roads residents about flooding and damage to homes and businesses.
Scholarship Tax Credit Program: Conference supported legislation, HB1018 (Delegate Massie), would have raised the tax credit percentage for the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits (EISTC) program from 65% to 90%. This increase would have made the program more attractive to donors and allowed foundations to serve more low-income students with the increased funds. The bill was defeated in a 9-13 vote in the House Finance Committee (YEA reflects the Conference’s position).
An additional bill to expand the EISTC to include pre-K students, HB1019 (Delegate Massie), was carried over to 2017 by the House Finance Committee by voice vote.
Join us for these upcoming prayer and advocacy events:
Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth: 5 p.m., Wednesday, February 17, Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond. At the midpoint of the General Assembly session, join our bishops and expected guests, including the Governor and Virginia legislators of all faiths, for this special evening prayer for the needs of Virginia. The Cathedral is a pilgrimage site for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Reception follows. Please register here.
Catholics in the Capital: Wednesday, Feb. 17. Set up appointments with your legislators in Richmond. Conference staff will meet informally with advocates before legislative meetings to provide resources. Register at firstname.lastname@example.org.