As the Virginia General Assembly’s 2016 session draws to a close, legislators are holding final votes on key bills, including the budget. On Wednesday, a joint House/Senate conference committee released its budget agreement.
The Virginia Catholic Conference is pleased that the budget agreement, expected to be approved by the House and Senate this evening or tomorrow, includes language restoring restrictions against abortion funding that had been in place during the McDonnell Administration. Governor McAuliffe had removed those restrictions in his introduced budget. The agreement also eliminates a proposed $9 million “reproductive education” pilot program to provide “long acting reversible contraceptives,” such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), to low-income Virginia women and teen girls. Opposed by the Conference, the Governor’s proposal would have resulted in more aggressive promotion of contraception—an especially dangerous proposal given there is no requirement in federal or Virginia law that minors have parental consent before having a contraceptive device implanted.
The agreement also includes 1,210 much-needed Medicaid waiver slots for Virginians with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have not had access to the care and services they need because of a long waiting list. Additionally, it appropriates funds to extend foster care services for Virginia youth up to age 21, and provides $11 million for the Housing Trust Fund to assist Virginians in securing affordable housing.
Here’s a look at how some other Conference priorities fared this week:
Defunding Abortion Providers: In a 21-19 vote(YEA represents the Conference’s position), the Senate passed Conference-supported legislation, HB 1090 (Delegate Cline), which 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 now goes to the Governor. Stay tuned for an alert about contacting the Governor on this important issue.
Electric Chair Expansion Bill: The House (65-32) and Senate (22-17) (Links to the votes were not available at press time), gave final approval to Conference-opposed legislation, HB 815 (Delegate Miller), which would require the state to electrocute death row prisoners when the Department of Corrections (DOC) certifies that lethal injection drugs are not available “for any reason”. The legislation would effectively make the electric chair Virginia’s permanent execution method.
Noting the teaching of Pope Francis and his predecessors, as well as our bishops, the Conference opposes use of the death penalty. Electrocution is also especially inhumane, and DOC should not be given virtually unlimited discretion to mandate the use of the electric chair.
The bill now goes to the Governor. Stay tuned for an alert about contacting the Governor on this important issue.
Protecting Religious Liberty: The House (59-38) and Senate (21-19) approved Conference-supported legislation, SB 41 (Senator Carrico), to protect clergy and religious organizations against governmental discrimination based on their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. When the bill passed the Senate earlier this session, it had been more narrowly drawn to protect clergy members who decline to participate in marriage ceremonies that conflict with their beliefs. With the help of Senator Carrico, a House committee added safeguards to ensure that religious charities and schools also could practice their beliefs without penalty. The Conference thanks Senator Carrico and Delegate Gilbert for their collaboration in expanding the bill’s protections and working to ensure the bill passed. It now heads to the Governor. Stay tuned for an alert about contacting the Governor on this important issue.