Life issues, religious liberty top VCC concerns
— Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference
The 2020 session (Jan. 8-March 7) of the Virginia General Assembly will feature numerous hotly contested issues, many in which the Virginia Catholic Conference (VCC) will be deeply involved. On our agenda, defending pro-life policies, religious liberty and parental choice in education are areas of high focus. So, too, are continuing to build momentum against the death penalty, enacting just policies for immigrants and advancing measures to reduce gun violence and poverty.
The pivotal November 2019 elections significantly altered the General Assembly’s composition and power structure. Before the elections, Republicans held thin majorities in 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. Measures already filed seek to remove parental consent and ultrasound informed consent requirements before an abortion is performed, eliminate health and safety standards for abortion facilities, and even 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 will also be considered. This program enables thousands of low-income students to attend Catholic and other nonpublic schools. The VCC 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, prospects for passage have improved. Early filed legislation seeks to help immigrants get to work, go to school, access healthcare 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. 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 those initiatives and a number of others likely to be proposed in those areas.
Many more bills continue to be filed in key areas of VCC advocacy such as education, poverty reduction and access to healthcare. We continue to monitor the introduction of bills closely to address emerging challenges and opportunities.
People often ask, “How can I make a difference?” Join the VCC network at www.vacatholic.org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Each of these platforms will provide action alerts throughout the session and provide you with easy and effective ways for you to contact your legislators before they vote on key bills.
Also plan to be a part of the second annual Virginia March for Life on Thursday, Feb. 13, and Virginia Vespers: Evening Prayer for the Commonwealth on Thursday, March 5. Details about both will be posted to www.vacatholic.org.
Caruso is executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference.