This week saw a flurry of action on several of the Conference’s legislative priorities.
As we approach crossover on Tuesday, February 7th, the House and Senate are rushing to complete their work and take action on their respective bills. After Tuesday, the House may only consider bills passed by the Senate and vice versa.
This Sunday, February 5th, the House and Senate money committees will release their proposed budgets, which will be debated and voted on beginning next week. Stay tuned for updates on Conference budget priorities!
On Thursday, February 9th, please join the bishops, legislators and Conference staff for these prayer and advocacy events:
Catholics in the Capital: On Thursday, February 9th, come to Richmond and meet your delegates and senators and advocate for the important issues outlined in our agenda. Just schedule your February 9 legislators’ visits and our staff will be happy to provide talking points and updates beforehand. Find legislators’ contact information here. Let us know after you’ve made the appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virginia Vespers: After meeting with your delegates and senators, join Virginia’s bishops, legislators, fellow Catholics and people of all faiths as we pray for the needs of the Commonwealth at our second annual Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth on Thursday, February 9th at 5pm at Richmond’s historic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. A wine and appetizers reception follows. Sign up here.
We look forward to seeing you in Richmond on Thursday, February 9!
Here’s a look at how Conference priorities fared this week:
Defunding the Abortion Industry: A bill HB 2264 (Del. Cline) that would direct tax dollars away from the abortion industry passed out of committee on Thursday in a 14-8 vote. A top priority for the Conference, the bill will now move to the floor for a vote by the full House. This measure passed the General Assembly last year, but was vetoed by the governor.
Religious Liberty: In a strong 57-37 vote, the full House approved HB 2025 (Delegate Freitas) to protect the right of religious organizations, including charities and schools, to follow the teaching that marriage is the union of a man and a woman without being penalized by state government. Earlier this afternoon, the Senate General Laws Committee approved an identical bill, SB 1324 (Sen. Carrico), by an 8-6 vote (not yet available online). The measure now heads to the Senate floor for a vote early next week. Thank you to everyone who took action on our recent alert on these top-priority Conference bills!
In related news, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is encouraging Americans to contact the White House and urge President Trump to follow through on his promise to strengthen religious liberty protections. Click here to contact President Trump.
Immigrant Communities: Multiple Conference-opposed bills would force local officials to work with the federal government to enforce immigration law. One measure to implicate campus officials in immigration enforcement, HB 2001 (Del. Poindexter), was tabled by the patron. One bill to require the same of local police and sheriff’s departments, HB 2236 (Del. Cline), was rolled into another, HB 2000 (Del. Poindexter). HB 2000 was then passed by the House Courts of Justice Committee in a 13-6 vote (not yet available online). We stand with the Commonwealth’s police chiefs in opposing these bills, understanding that they would strain local law enforcement agencies’ budgets and jeopardize their relationships with the communities they serve.
Welcoming Refugees: Conference-opposed legislation, HB 1723 (Del. Anderson), would have imposed redundant reporting regulations upon charities that participate in refugee resettlement. Your advocacy and the participation of resettlement charities in the Commonwealth were crucial to the patron’s decision to strike the bill. However, a similar bill, HB 2002 (Del. Poindexter), passed the House in a 59-36 vote, even though most of the information that the bill calls for is already publicly available on the Virginia Department of Social Services website.
Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants: The Conference is supporting a bill, HB 2020 (Del. Villanueva), that would allow various designations of legally-present residents of Virginia to obtain temporary driving privileges. The Conference supports legislation to expand access to driving privileges for all Virginians, regardless of immigration status. The measure was amended to apply only to residents who will be legally present as of July 1 of this year, and was reported by the House Transportation Committee in a 12-2 vote.
Parole for Juvenile Offenders: The Conference is once again supporting a measure, SB 1152 (Sen. Marsden), to make those who received life-without-parole sentences as juveniles eligible for a parole hearing after serving 20 years in prison. After an amendment extending the time served to 25 years, the bill passed the Senate in a 28-12 vote.
Scholarships for TANF Recipients: Conference-supported legislation, HB 2041 (Del. Murphy) and SB 838 (Sen. Stanley), would channel excess TANF (welfare) funds toward a pilot program to provide community college scholarships to recipients. HB 2041 passed unanimously out of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee but then died in House Appropriations. SB 838 passed out of the Senate Finance Committee, also unanimously.
Education Opportunities for At-Risk Children: In a 39-0 vote, the Senate approved Conference-supported legislation, SB 1427 (Sen. Stanley), to make low-income pre-K students eligible for the Education Improvement Scholarships tax credit program. Thousands of Virginia students currently receive the financial assistance they need to attend Catholic and other nonpublic K-12 schools through this vital program. Virginia can help at-risk children at an earlier age if this bill passes. Other Conference-supported bills, which sought to increase the program’s tax credit from 65% to 90%, have been defeated for the year.
Recognizing the Harm of Pornography: In a bipartisan 82-8 vote, the House of Delegates approved Conference-supported HJ 549 (Del. R.G. Marshall), recognizing that pornography leads to societal and individual harms. Virginia joins Utah and South Dakota as states that are recognizing these adverse effects. The resolution will now go to the Senate. Stay tuned for another action alert on HJ 549!