This Week at the 2020 Virginia General Assembly – Week 9
The unusually high volume of bills remaining resulted in extra long floor sessions all week, sometimes extending well into the night. With no agreement in sight on a budget, the session will extend beyond the scheduled Saturday end date. We have been at the Capitol throughout these long hours, lobbying legislators every moment we can on the critical issues that remain. We also joined with many of you last evening to pray for elected officials as they make so many decisions in these last days of session that will impact our state in profound ways.
Thanks to all who attended Virginia Vespers last evening! Prayer provides the foundation for all the advocacy we do. We are very grateful to Bishop Burbidge for leading the service, to Bishop Knestout for the timely reflection he delivered, and to all those whose diligent work and talents made the service so beautiful. To everyone who gathered for the service and reception, thank you for participating! Visit our Facebook page to see text of Bishop Knestout’s homily and a video of the intercessory prayers.
Religious Liberty: At the same time we gathered for Vespers, floor debates were heating up on several items of paramount importance.
First, the Senate debated and, to our disappointment, passed HB 1429, which would require health insurance plans in Virginia to cover gender reassignment procedures. Senator Newman offered an essential amendment seeking simply to ensure that religious organizations would not be required to provide this coverage if it is inconsistent with their deeply held beliefs. But in a 21-19 vote (link not yet available), the Senate rejected the amendment. We worked closely with Senator Newman on the amendment and thank him for offering it. As the bill heads to the Governor, we will continue to urge that essential protections be added to the bill to protect the fundamental religious liberty rights at stake.
Second, the Senate debated HB 1663, which would make “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protected classes in several areas of state law including employment and public accommodations. In a voice vote, the Senate amended the bill to clarify that various religious entities are exempt from the public accommodations section of the bill. We supported the amendment, offered jointly by Senators Stuart and Petersen. Unfortunately, the House rejected the amendment, so a conference committee will need to resolve the difference.
Third, HB 1049, which would also make “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protected classes in various areas of state law including state contracts, is also headed to a conference committee. As we reported last week, the Senate added language to the bill to protect the ability of Catholic Charities and other faith-based organizations to continue to partner with the state to provide refugee resettlement and other social services, while at the same time following the tenets of their faith in their employment practices. We strongly support the language the Senate added, but unfortunately the House rejected it, setting the stage for discussion among conferees.
There will be further updates and alerts on religious liberty matters in the days to come. Please stay tuned and we continue to be grateful for your vital advocacy!
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In prayer and in public, your voices are urgently needed to bring Gospel values to bear on vital decisions being made by those who represent you.
~~~The Virginia Catholic Conference is the public policy agency representing Virginia’s Catholic bishops and their two dioceses.