Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 01/27/2017

This Week at the 2017 Virginia General Assembly-Week 3

Today marks the 44th Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., recalling the tragic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and the more than 59 million children who have since lost their lives.  The Conference wishes to express our appreciation of and solidarity with all who are marching for the dignity of life from conception until natural death in Washington today.   You can read statements commemorating the 44th Annual March for Life from Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington here and from Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond here.

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Fr. Terence Gordon, FSSP and parishioners from St. Joseph’s Parish in Richmond pose for the camera after today’s March for Life. Kimberly and Patrick Lewis, wife and son of VCC Associate Director Michael Lewis, are pictured in the baby stroller and behind Fr. Gordon

On February 9th, the Virginia Catholic Conference invites you to join us for these advocacy and prayer 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 office@vacatholic.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!

The 2017 Virginia General Assembly session is quickly approaching “crossover” on February 7th, after which the House may only consider bills passed by the Senate and vice versa.  Over the next week, committees will be working hard to clear their dockets of all bills originally assigned to them.

Here’s a look at how Conference priorities fared this week:

Ultrasound Informed Consent:  Conference-opposed bills SB 1424 (Sen. Locke) and SB 1549 (Sen. Wexton) were defeated in identical 8-7 votes along party lines in the Senate Education & Health Committee. The bills would have weakened informed consent requirements before an abortion. Conference staff testified in opposition to these bills. The Conference was involved in the initial passage of these requirements.

Redefining Marriage:  The Conference opposed SJ 216 (Sen. Ebbin), a proposed constitutional amendment which would have removed from the VA Constitution the definition of marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman.” Conference staff testified against the proposed constitutional amendment in the Senate Privileges & Elections Constitutional Subcommittee. The subcommittee recommended not to advance SJ 216, and the full committee will soon consider that recommendation.

Protecting Religious Liberty:  In a 14-8 vote, the House General Laws Committee 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.  This bill – one of the Conference’s top priorities for the 2017 session – now heads to the House floor, where there will be a vote next week.  Act now to urge your state delegate to vote for this bill on the House floor!

Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants:  The Conference once again supported legislation, HB 1682 (Del. Bloxom), to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver privilege cards to taxpaying residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. The bill received the support of the Conference, in solidarity with members of our own church communities who contribute to the Commonwealth’s cultural and economic life. Despite overwhelming testimony in favor of the bill, it did not advance out of committee. We look forward, however, to supporting similar legislation, HB 2020 (Del. Villanueva), which would extend driving privileges to all immigrants who are legally present in the Commonwealth.

Immigrant Communities:  In a 68-31 vote, the House of Delegates passed HB 1468 (Del. Robert Marshall). Opposed by the Conference, this bill would force cities and counties to comply with every federal detainer request and undermine trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement. The measure will now move to the Senate.

Enhancing Scholarship Tax Credits:  In identical 7-4 votes, a House Finance subcommittee advanced two Conference-supported bills (HB 1962 and HB 1963, Delegate Massie) that would enhance the Education Improvement Scholarships tax credit program.  HB 1962 would increase the tax credit to 90% from 65%, and HB 1963 would make low-income pre-K students eligible for the program.  Thousands of Virginia students receive the financial assistance they need to attend Catholic and other nonpublic K-12 schools through this vital program.  The program could help many more children if these bills pass.  The full House Finance Committee is expected to vote on these bills on Monday, January 30.  Identical Senate bills will also be debated in the Senate Finance Committee next week.  Please take action here to tell your state delegate and senator to support these bills.

Protecting Consumers:  Conference-supported legislation, SB 1126 (Sen. Surovell), applies the Commonwealth’s lending regulations to a growing market of loans contracted over the Internet. The Conference has long supported measures to protect vulnerable consumers by closing loopholes that exist in Virginia’s financial law. With the addition of a clause saying the bill also must be approved next year, it passed the Senate in a 34-6 vote. See previous coverage of the Conference’s advocacy for this bill here.

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 01/20/2017

This Week at the 2017 Virginia General Assembly-Week 2

The 2017 session of the Virginia General Assembly continues to move full speed ahead as we conclude a busy second week of legislative business. The deadline to file bills is today, and Conference staff continues to comb through every bill filed, highlighting those for which to advocate or oppose.

House and Senate committees are in the midst of considering thousands of bills by “crossover” on February 7th , after which date the House and Senate can only consider bills that have passed the opposite chamber. Conference staff testified on quite a few of the bills debated in committees this week. Here’s a look at how some of those fared:

Regulating Abortion Clinics: Conference-opposed legislation, SB 877 (Sen. Favola), which would have repealed the abortion clinic regulations that led operations to be suspended at a Fairfax clinic last spring due to 26 health and safety violations, was defeated in an 8-7 vote by the Senate Education and Health Committee. The Conference played an important role in the passage of the law directing the Board of Health to devise and implement abortion clinic regulations in 2011, and vigorously opposes any efforts to weaken regulation and oversight of the abortion industry.

Recognizing January 22nd as the “Day of Tears” in Virginia: HR 268 (Del. Cline), which encourages Virginians to lower their flags to half-staff every January 22 to mourn the nearly 60 million innocents who have lost their lives to abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down by the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, passed the House on Wednesday in a 57-36 vote. This resolution is the first in the United States to pass, and supporters are hopeful that other states will follow Virginia’s lead. The Conference supported the resolution to remember the millions of children lost to abortion. The first Day of Tears will be this Sunday, January 22.

Adoption Tax Credits: Conference-supported legislation, HB 2027 (Del. Freitas), failed to advance out of a House Finance subcommittee on a voice vote. The bill would have created a tax credit and deduction for the adoption of a child within the Virginia foster care system. The subcommittee recommended that the proposal be referred to the Commission on Youth for further study. We look forward to continuing our work on this issue in the future.

Protecting Religious Liberty: In a 4-2 vote, a House General Laws subcommittee advanced a bill, HB 2025 (Del. 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. The full committee will soon consider this bill, one of the Conference’s top priorities for the 2017 session.

Preserving Scholarship Tax Credits: In a voice vote, a House Finance subcommittee rejected a Conference-opposed bill (HB 1707, Del Filler-Corn) that would have reduced tax incentives for donations to charities and K-12 scholarship foundations that help low-income students.

Immigration Enforcement: A Conference-opposed immigration enforcement measure, HB 1468 (Del. Robert Marshall), passed out of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee in a 10-7 vote. This bill, which would force cities and counties to comply with every federal detainer request and undermine trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement, will be heard on the House floor next week. Alongside many of the Church’s leaders across the nation, Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco has directly addressed the issue in the wake of a highly publicized tragedy that took place within his archdiocese in 2015. You can read the archbishop’s statement in support of local law enforcement’s right to discretion in these matters here.

Raising the Minimum Wage: Conference-supported efforts to raise the minimum wage have been killed in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. The Conference testified at the committee hearing that raising the minimum wage is a pro-family policy that respects the dignity of work and would enable the self-sufficiency of more working families. After the defeat of SB 785 (Sen. Marsden) in an 11-3 committee vote, SB 978 (Sen. Dance), was stricken by the patron. Four Conference-supported minimum wage bills still remain to be considered by a House committee.

Protecting Consumers from Predatory Lending: The Conference received press coverage for its advocacy in favor of SB 1126 (Sen. Surovell), which applies the Commonwealth’s lending regulations to a growing market of loans contracted over the Internet. The Conference has long supported measures to protect vulnerable consumers by closing loopholes that exist in Virginia’s financial law. The bill passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee with bipartisan support, in an 8-5 vote. It is expected to be heard on the Senate floor next week.

Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants: The Conference once again supported legislation, SB 1345 (Sen. Surovell), to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver privilege cards to taxpaying residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. The Church stands in solidarity with undocumented parishioners who contribute to the Commonwealth’s cultural and economic life. Despite overwhelming testimony in favor of the bill, it failed in a 7-6 vote. A companion bill, HB 1682 (Del. Bloxom), will be heard by the House Transportation Committee in the near future. We also look forward to supporting similar pieces of legislation that are patroned by members of both parties, including HB 1419 (Del. Kory), HB 1688 (Del. Lopez), and HB 2020 (Del. Villanueva).

Virginia Executes Ricky Javon Gray

On Wednesday, the Commonwealth put to death Ricky Javon Gray at 9:42 pm, despite the petitions of Catholics and others for Governor McAuliffe to commute Gray’s sentence to life without parole. Gray is the 112th person to be executed by the Commonwealth since 1982, after he was sentenced to death for the 2006 murders of seven Richmond residents. Echoing Pope Francis and the U.S. Catholic Bishops, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond issued this joint statement expressing their profound sorrow and grief for victims of violence, as well as their hope for an end to capital punishment.

 

Plan to join us for these upcoming advocacy and prayer 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 office@vacatholic.org.

Virginia Vespers: After meeting with your delegates and senators, stick around and 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.

 

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 01/13/2017

This Week at the 2017 Virginia General Assembly-Week 1

The 2017 session of the Virginia General Assembly kicked off Wednesday amidst a blanket of (melting) snow.  With no time to waste during the short 45-day session, delegates and senators set to work immediately on the business of the Commonwealth.

This session, the Virginia Catholic Conference welcomes two new associate directors who joined us in November:  Kevin Mauer, who hails from Utah, and Bill Re, who comes from Illinois. Together, they and other members of the VCC team will advocate from a wide-ranging agenda to preserve and expand pro-life protections, protect religious liberty and conscience rights, oppose cuts to crucial safety net programs, and more.   Our agenda for this current session can be found here.

Here’s a look at how some of the Conference’s priorities fared this week:

Ending the Lifetime Ban on SNAP Benefits:  In an 8-7 vote, the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee defeated Conference-supported legislation, SB 830 (Sen. Favola), that would have repealed Virginia’s lifetime ban on those convicted of drug-distribution felonies receiving SNAP benefits (formerly known as “food stamps”). The Conference has long favored efforts to re-integrate into society people who have served their time after committing crimes. Former inmates often are barred from many employment opportunities because of their pasts, and struggle to meet basic needs as they re-integrate into society.

Action Items:

Ask the Governor to Grant a Stay of Execution: On Wednesday, January 18, Virginia is scheduled to carry out the execution of Ricky Javon Gray.  Please act now and urge Governor McAuliffe to commute Gray’s sentence to life without parole instead of executing him.  Pope Francis has said, “Today, capital punishment is unacceptable,” echoing the Catechism, the statements of his predecessors, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II, as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have taught, “No matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.”

Plan to join us for these upcoming advocacy and prayer 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 office@vacatholic.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.

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 12/20/2016

Making Room at the Inn: How our Faith Compels us to Welcome the Stranger Among Us

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By Rev. Shay Auerbach, S.J.

I have the privilege of working in a parish that is predominantly Latino and immigrant.  At this time of year we have begun the traditional Posadas celebrations, a pre-Christmas novena common in Latino communities with origins in Mexico and Central America.

Every night in our parish, at eight different locations Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging is reenacted.  The celebrations recall history and at the same time invite reflection that God still seeks “lodging” in the human race.  He longs to be welcomed into our hearts, our families, parishes and the wider community.

Part of the ritual includes knocking at the door of the home slated to receive the posada.  A sung exchange begins.  Those outside sing in Joseph’s voice, begging for lodging for his very pregnant wife, tired from a long journey.  The response comes from the inside of the house, several times telling the pilgrims to go away, “leave at once, you might be criminals, we will beat you.”  The outsiders are insistent and finally the hearts of those inside soften and welcome the “holy pilgrims” not just into the home but into their hearts as well.

The existential connection is unnerving.  Immigrants being called criminals, threatened with violence if they do not leave.  The solidarity strengthens.  Mary and Joseph were also rejected yet they did not despair.   The power of conversion is equally as remarkable.  Hardened hearts soften, closed doors open.  There is room for all and a celebration begins with a banquet for all.

Isn’t this the essence of our faith?  God journeys to join the human race.  He faces rejection; even death.  Yet in the end, hearts are transformed and new life begins.

We remember Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay.  Later we hear about them as a family fleeing Bethlehem to escape violence and join the Jewish diaspora, the vibrant Jewish immigrant community in Egypt.

On December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the US Bishops invited us to a day of prayer and solidarity with refugees and migrants.  During National Migration Week beginning on Epiphany Sunday (Jan. 8 – 14) the bishops again invite us as a church “to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking”.  We follow Pope Francis’ call to create a culture of encounter—dialogue, open hearts and minds.

The coming celebrations join us in a profound way to an immigrant family who looked for a better life.  Our Christian life is rooted in the stories we hear in the next couple of weeks.  What better way to become more authentically Christian than to walk in solidarity with Mary and Joseph as they seek welcome, with the Holy Family as they journey to a new country.  What better way to pray, than to lift our voices with Joseph’s pleading for welcome.  What more honest practice to welcome the God who wants to take on our flesh than to examine where our hearts are closed, where our minds are frozen, where our doors are bolted shut.

And as we celebrate God taking up residence in the human family, let us be hope for our brothers and sisters who still face rejection and still journey.

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Fr. Shay Auerbach, S.J. is pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Richmond.  He is also president of the board of directors of Sacred Heart Center, a non-profit organization whose mission is “to create a hub for the Richmond Hispanic/Latino community which opens opportunities for economic and social integration, self-fulfillment, and community leadership development.”

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 11/16/2016

Prison ministry offers hope to men and women living in Virginia’s prisons

Posted by: Virginia Catholic Conference | 11/01/2016

Election fatigue or not, Catholics called to participate in the political process

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