Virginia General Assembly session round-up

First slide

This year's Virginia General Assembly session, which ended Feb. 27, was "about maintaining the status quo," said Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference.

Given the political climate, Caruso has said repeatedly at Virginia Catholic Advocacy Day and other speaking engagements that completely outlawing abortion may not be possible at this time; therefore, the VCC aims for "compromise." This session, compromise meant defunding Medicaid abortions, a goal that was not achieved. The advocacy group's initial hope this session - as it is with all sessions - was outlawing all forms of abortion in all situations.

In a statement released during the session, Caruso wrote the following about restricting Virginia's abortion funding:

"Based on the longstanding federal Hyde Amendment, the federal government subsidizes abortions for women enrolled in Medicaid only when the life of the mother is in danger and in cases of rape and incest. Virginia is among a minority of states that also provides state-only funding for women enrolled in Medicaid to obtain abortions in cases of a fetus' 'gross and incapacitating' physical deformity or mental deficiency.

"The VCC supports House-approved amendments to the state budget that would strip state Medicaid funding for abortions done because the fetus might be born disabled. (Though this provision was not included in the final budget package approved by the House and Senate, the conference will continue to pursue its inclusion in future years.)"

Throughout the session, the VCC advocated for preserving life, religious liberty and social justice. This included, among other initiatives, creating a stand-alone anti-human trafficking law, allowing National Guard chaplains the freedom to dictate the content of their sermons, maintaining DACA (Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals) students' access to in-state college tuition and keeping the concealed-carry law at K-12 schools - all of which was accomplished.

One of the session's more uplifting moments came last week, when a bill was passed to compensate victims of Virginia's forced sterilization movement up to $25,000 each. Victims must come forward to claim their funds, which will be available beginning July 1.

The Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act, which was signed into law in 1924, was responsible for sterilizing more than 7,000 Virginians from 1924 to 1979. These were people deemed mentally or physically unfit to procreate.

Caruso described Virginia's history of forced sterilization as a "grave injustice" for which there is no compensation, but that this act may "promote some healing and forgiveness." The VCC was among the advocacy groups that spent the past three years pushing for the victim fund.

Another victory for the VCC and same-minded advocacy groups was defeating a bill that would keep the ingredients of lethal injections a secret.

"I really hope that the defeat of the lethal injection bill will provide an opportunity to talk more broadly about the death penalty," said Caruso.

Throughout the last week of the session, Caruso said he and his team tracked the bill budget, helped leaders prepare for floor debates and visited politicians and their assistants.

The Virginia General Assembly meets for 60 days in even-numbered years and 30 days in odd-numbered years.

Next year, Caruso said that he wants the VCC to continue focusing on the poorest and most vulnerable.

Find out more

To learn more about the Virginia Catholic Conference, go to <href="http//:vacatholic.org">vacatholic.org.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015