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Virginia General Assembly begins with contested issues

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With the new year comes a new session of the Virginia General Assembly. The 2020 session — Jan. 8 – March 7 — will feature numerous hotly contested issues, and the Virginia Catholic Conference will be very involved in many of them. On our agenda is defending pro-life policies, religious liberty and parental choice in education as well as continuing to build momentum against the death penalty, enacting just policies for immigrants, and advancing measures to reduce gun violence and poverty.

The session follows on the heels of the pivotal November 2019 elections that significantly altered the General Assembly’s composition and power structure. Before the elections, Republicans held thin majorities in both the 40-member Senate and the 100-member House of Delegates. Now, Democrats control both chambers.

In some fundamental areas where we had previously made gains, this shift signals stiff challenges ahead. Already filed measures seek to remove parental consent and ultrasound informed-consent requirements before an abortion is performed, to eliminate health and safety standards for abortion facilities, and even to establish a “right to personal reproductive autonomy” in Virginia’s constitution.

Resolutions have been introduced to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, the language of which has already been used to challenge and overturn pro-life laws in other states.

Legislation has also been filed seeking to deny religious employers and service providers the ability to operate consistently with their beliefs on human sexuality and marriage — creating lawsuits against faith-based providers.

A bill to legalize assisted suicide, first introduced in 2019, is expected to resurface in 2020.

A bill to repeal the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits program also will be considered. This program enables thousands of low-income students to attend Catholic and other nonpublic schools. We will take strong stands against each of these measures and others that threaten to roll back longstanding, hard-fought policies that protect life and liberty and enhance the lives of families and communities.

Conversely, in areas of our advocacy that have not succeeded in the past, prospects for passage have improved. Early filed legislation seeks to help immigrants get to work, go to school, access health care and attend church by creating a state-issued permit granting driving privileges to those who cannot obtain driver’s licenses because of their immigration status. Bills have been introduced to limit and even abolish the death penalty. And several bills have been filed to expand the instances in which background checks are required for gun purchases and transfers. We will be a key supporter of these initiatives and a number of others likely to be proposed in these areas.

Many more bills continue to be filed in key areas of VCC advocacy such as education, poverty reduction and access to health care. We continue to monitor the introduction of bills closely to address emerging challenges and opportunities.

People often ask, “How can I make a difference?” We recommend the following:

• Go to vacatholic.org, where you can join our email network, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Each of these platforms will provide action alerts throughout the session — easy and effective ways for you to contact your legislators before they vote on key bills.

• Attend the second annual Virginia March for Life Feb. 13. Please join us in Richmond for a day of prayer, advocacy and witness for life — featuring a Mass concelebrated by Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Richmond Bishop Barry C. Knestout, visits to legislators’ offices, the rally and march. Check out times and other details at vacatholic.org.

• Attend the fifth annual Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth March 5, hosted by Bishop Knestout, Bishop Burbidge and the VCC at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond at 5 p.m.

Caruso is executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020