This Week at the 2022 General Assembly–Week 7
The General Assembly is now sprinting downhill toward its conclusion. This week the House and Senate took up in earnest bills passed by the other chamber and, importantly, their own versions of the state budget. Only two weeks now remain, and the target date of adjournment, March 12, looms large.
While the field of bills still under consideration has narrowed, we continue to advocate for legislation ranging from explicit legal protections for babies born alive after abortions to bills that would empower parents with respect to sexually explicit content in classrooms and family life education decisions for their children attending public schools. We also continue to work for our budget priorities. Here is a rundown of our activities in Richmond this week:
Women’s Right to Know law: In the 2020 session, many pro-life protections were dismantled, including Virginia’s “Women’s Right to Know” law which provided women crucial information before an abortion. This morning, a Senate subcommittee voted 6-2 (link not yet available) against a House-passed bill that would restore much of this law, including requiring women to be given information about pregnancy support programs in Virginia. The measure will still proceed to the full committee next week, but given the subcommittee outcome, the bill’s eventual defeat is virtually certain.
Safe haven protections: Safe haven laws, present in every state, provide a way for a parent to safely deliver an unharmed newborn baby to a designated place of safety without risk of prosecution. On Tuesday, a House committee passed (15-6) a bill that expands Virginia’s safe haven law aimed at protecting mothers in crisis and ensuring the safety of their newborn babies. This bill, which already passed the Senate, aligns our current protections to the standard 30-day window seen in other states’ safe haven laws and sets standards for any newborn safety device if a hospital chooses to install one.
Religious liberty: Legislation enacted in 2020 added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected categories in many areas of state law. On Wednesday, a House-passed bill we support that seeks to add religious liberty protections to this law – to ensure religious organizations and ministries can practice their beliefs about marriage and human sexuality – unfortunately was defeated 8-7 in a Senate committee.
Marijuana commercialization: Last year, Virginia enacted legislation to legalize marijuana possession and home cultivation. The law also created a complex licensing framework to sell high-potency tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in “pot shops,” but conditioned that framework on “re-enactment” this year. Without re-approval, commercial sales will remain illegal. Last week, the Senate passed a 450-page commercialization bill 21-18-1. On Thursday, a House subcommittee took testimony on the bill, but postponed deliberation until Monday. We oppose this bill because of its anticipated harms to children and health. Conversely, we support a Senate-passed bill to mitigate some harms; a House committee approved it Thursday 21-1.
Sexually explicit instructional content: Legislation introduced in the Senate and House would require parental notification before sexually explicit content was presented. This legislation would also permit parental review of such “instructional materials” and provide non-explicit alternatives to any student upon parental request. Last week, the Senate approved this common sense bill 20-18, and, on Wednesday, a House committee approved it 12-10. By contrast, on Thursday, a similar House-passed bill failed to advance in a Senate committee (7-8). The Senate bill next goes to the full House for floor consideration.
Parental consent for family life education: Last week, the House passed legislation (50-49) that would require parental consent to enroll children in public school “Family Life Education” programs. Currently, parents only have the ability to opt out their children, but the opt-out process can be burdensome and does not always work. The ever-evolving FLE curriculum made headlines in 2018 in Albemarle County after an explicit video was shown to 14-year-old girls without their parents’ knowledge. Sadly, on Thursday, a Senate subcommittee voted 4-1 against this critical bill. The measure will still proceed to the full committee next week, but given the subcommittee outcome, the bill’s eventual defeat is virtually certain.
Limiting isolated confinement: Earlier this month, the Senate passed legislation to limit isolated confinement in prisons to no more than 15 consecutive days in any 60-day period. We supported the bill as an appropriate way to curb the damaging effects of this practice while simultaneously protecting the life, dignity and safety of all members of a prison community. This week, however, a House committee amended the bill to require a study of the practice instead of advancing the bill’s substantive provisions.
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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.