This Week at the 2022 General Assembly–Week 5
On Wednesday, more than 300 advocates filled the halls of the General Assembly this past Wednesday for Defending Life Day. After an ecumenical prayer gathering at the Greater Richmond Convention Center led by Bishop Knestout, Bishop Burbidge and Reverend Dean Nelson, advocates processed to Capitol Square for meetings at legislators’ offices. Their work was later recognized in remarks on both the Senate floor (starting at 12:35) and House floor during live sessions. To see photos of our district teams in action, visit our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. For more coverage, read this story and watch this video. Thank you so much to all who participated!
The General Assembly has now completed five weeks of work, and Crossover Day – the day after which the House can only consider Senate-passed bills and the Senate can only consider House-passed bills – is next Tuesday, February 15. Deadlines are looming, so it was an especially busy week in committees and on the floor of each chamber. Here is an update on bills of interest.
Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act: On Thursday, legislation that would have joined Virginia with 13 other states in prohibiting most abortions 20 weeks after fertilization was defeated in a 9-6 committee vote. Unborn children can experience pain at or before 20 weeks. During the committee hearing, Senator Dunnavant provided excellent comments on why this bill is vitally important. Though it is deeply disappointing this measure did not advance, other bills to protect life are moving forward. Stay tuned for a key alert on Monday!
Death Penalty: Legislation enacted last year repealed Virginia’s death penalty. A bill proposed this year, however, would have allowed the death penalty for the killing of a law-enforcement officer. On Monday, a Senate committee defeated the bill 9-6. In our testimony against the measure, we affirmed our respect and honor for law enforcement as well as our continued opposition to the death penalty and our support of last year’s repeal of it.
Proposed constitutional amendments: On Tuesday, a House subcommittee voted on two proposals to amend Virginia’s constitution. One resolution, which we opposed, sought to remove the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and to replace it with language to “recognize marriages … regardless of the sex or gender of the parties to the marriage.” That measure was defeated 6-4. The other resolution, which we supported, sought to restore voting rights for persons convicted of a felony once they have completed their sentences. That measure was also defeated 6-4.
Religious liberty: Legislation enacted in 2020 added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected categories in many areas of state law. Our repeated attempts that year to amend it to ensure protections for religious organizations and ministries to practice their beliefs – including the beliefs that God created each person male or female and established marriage as the union of a man and a woman – fell short. On Thursday, however, a bill again attempting to add religious liberty protections to this law was approved by a House committee 13-9. Please take action on our alert as this bill heads to the House floor!
Sexually explicit instructional content: Parents with children in public school often don’t know what their kids are being taught. Recent examples: In Albemarle County and Northern Virginia, sexually explicit material was used without parental knowledge. Legislation introduced in the Senate and House would require parental notification annually before sexually explicit content was included in lessons. This legislation would also permit parental review of such “instructional materials,” and provide non-explicit alternatives to any student upon parental request. Thankfully, the Senate approved this bill Wednesday 20-18 – a key victory. Also on Wednesday, House companion legislation passed in committee 12-10.
Marijuana commercialization: Last year, Virginia enacted legislation to legalize marijuana and home cultivation. The law also created a complex framework to issue commercial licenses to sell THC in hundreds of “pot shops.” However, for those provisions to take effect, the General Assembly must “re-enact,” that is, reapprove them this year. Consequently, there will be no legal sales in Virginia unless such legislation is re-enacted. This week, Senate committees passed a massive commercialization bill, which next goes before the full Senate on Monday or Tuesday. We oppose this bill while supporting legislation to mitigate some of its harmful effects.
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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.