Update 1 | January 17, 2020

Released: Friday, January 17, 2020

General Assembly Update Week 1, January 17, 2020
This update actually covers January 8 through 17. While most House committees were having organizational meetings before hearing bills, the Senate committees were moving forward with hearing legislation. Links to these bills can be found on VAIB.org under my Legislative Overview.

  • Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast- each session is proceeded by this event. Four pastors of the VAIB Steering Committee attended, plus some other guests, to join in prayer for the General Assembly and government agencies. We then proceeded to visit delegates and senators to pray for them as they make decisions affecting our Commonwealth.
  • Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)- SJ 1 & HJ 1: On Friday, January 10, the Senate Privileges and Elections committee was dedicated to this one topic, the Equal Rights Amendment. As this was a familiar topic, committee chairman Sen. Deeds limited testimony to five minutes for each side. I was not able to give testimony to the bill as it was determined others should represent our opposition position. It was clear that the Democratic majority had the votes for passage, therefore the bill passed. The only disappointing vote for passage of the ERA is Republican Senator Jill Vogel who has voted for the bill in the past. On Thursday, an opinion from the US Justice Department stated that the Equal Rights Amendment had expired in 1979 and passage by any state now was meaningless. HJ1 passed House Privileges & Elections committee on January 14. Each of these bills passed the House and Senate with much fanfare on January 15. VAIB opposes the ERA believing it will have drastic negative impacts on abortion and treatment of women who it is intended to help.
  • Repeal of the Educational Improvement Scholarship Tax Credits (EISTC)- HB 521: Established in 2012, this tax credit would be discontinued. Many private schools were able to enroll low-income students who qualified for tuition scholarships through this program. Numerous small Christian schools had begun using the program. I visited the office of Delegate David Bulova who introduced the bill. His office received calls, emails, and visits from numerous other groups who opposed the bill. Thankfully, Delegate Bulova had decided to carry his bill over to the 2021 General Assembly session to further investigate the matter for one year. VAIB supports EISTC as it has benefitted many Christian schools across the Commonwealth. Therefore, VAIB opposes HB521.
  • Clarification on staff-to-children ratios in religious-exempt child daycenters- HB 1235 and SB 927: These two bills have not been heard in committees yet, but passage is important to help clarify an area of confusion for inspectors from the Department of Social Services. Some local inspectors have required more adults for mixed groups of children than are necessary. This has necessitated that some of our day cares hire more staff than anticipated. Passage of these bills will ensure clarity on the issue relieving the stress and confusion caused by some inspectors. VAIB supports these bills to ensure clarity for staffing ratios of religious-exempt child day centers. 
  • Prohibition of conversion therapy by professional counselors- SB245 & HB386: These bills prevent professional (licensed) counselors from even counseling an individual away from same-sex attractions or non-biological gender identities along with any type of activities classified as conversion therapy. SB245 has passed Senate Education & Health Committee; HB386 has not yet been presented in House Health, Welfare, and Institutions. VAIB opposes these bills as it will prohibit professional Christian counselors who hold certain values from using those values in counseling.
  • Implementing policies on treatment of transgender students in public schools- SB 161. Model policies will be developed by the Virginia Department of Education and ready for implementation by December 2020. Bill passed Senate Education & Health Committee. Will religious liberties be impacted? VAIB is concerned that these new policies will negatively impact students who hold religiously held values which may be in conflict with these policies.
  • Decriminalizing/Legalizing Marijuana- HB87; HB269; HB301; HB962; HB972; SB2; SB815: These bills either weaken the penalty for possessing marijuana or allow for possession of “small” amounts for personal use. VAIB opposes any effort to legalize marijuana. We believe the statistics in states which have legalized marijuana show definite harm to individuals and to the state as a whole.
  • Removing prohibition of guns in places of worship- HB373; HB596; HB1486; SB958: These bills would delete the law prohibiting guns in churches. VAIB supports these bills and believes churches should have the freedom to develop their own policies on guns.
  • Weakening abortion regulations- HB980; HB1060; HB1356; SB21; SB68; SB635; SB733. VAIB opposes each of these bills. Current standards protect the health of women and allow proper consideration before a woman undertakes an abortion.
  • Reproductive Rights Amendment- SJ2. This bill would create an amendment to our state constitution giving complete freedom to women regarding abortion at any point during the pregnancy. VAIB opposes SJ2.
  • Nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity: HB7; HB21; HB23; HB217; HB488; HB580; HB618; HB623; HB696; HB1040; HB1050; HB1051; HB1429; HB1490; HJ85; SB17; SB23; SB66; SB159; SB161; SB179.  Just by the number of bills introduced, the effort to protect sexual orientation and gender identity is expansive. The only areas protected are religious organizations and certain non-profit entities which have religious beliefs protected. VAIB opposes these bills.
  • Removal of Virginia’s marriage amendment- SJ3. VAIB supports marriage as between one man and one woman. VAIB opposes SJ3 which seeks to remove this amendment.
  • Corporal punishment with inanimate object- SB32- CO to 2021. This bill would have only allowed corporal punishment (spanking) using an open hand. VAIB opposes this bill as it would unnecessarily limit a parent's ability to discipline his or her child. The bill will not be heard in this session but has been carried over to 2021.