General Assembly Post Mortem, Part 1

(Because of a technical malfunction that crashed this site on April 4, and took down every post and comment after March 14, the following has been re-posted. It was originally written March 26, 2008.)   It's time to review exactly what happened at the General Assembly, at least as far as pro-life, pro-family legislation went. We'll do it over two, probably three, posts.

There was much with which to be disapointed, for sure. It wasn't easy in past years with a RINO leadership in the Senate and, with an even more liberal crowd running the show there now, it was never going to be anything less than walking on nails. Not too many political analysts would have given our agenda much of a chance at session's start. So it is a testament to the influence of pro-family Virginians that, despite the odds, pro-family legislation did pass this legislature. A great deal of credit also goes to lawmakers who saw through partisanship and voted on the merits of certain bills. (When that happens, though not often, we usually win, because so many bills we support simply make commonsense.)

The biggest disappointment was over the biggest issue: Life. It always will be the biggest issue. Without life, nothing else flows, nothing matters, nothing else is even remotely important. (Note to self-styled "libertarians" who think "pro-choice" is an issue of individual freedom: Please learn that the first tenet of liberty is "Life," as in "Life, Liberty and Property/Pursuit of Happiness.")

All pro-life bills that overwhelmingly passed the House met their usual defeat in the "Committee of Death," the Senate Committee on Education and Health, and it even killed a couple that originated in the Senate. (Now that a few more conservative senators are in the Republican caucus, some good bills actually were introduced there.) But the House and Senate budget conferees' decision to strip the budget of important pro-life language was a terrible blow, especially after the shocking and hard-fought win in the Senate to pass language barring funding to abortion provider Planned Parenthood. (Check out this op-ed piece from the Buffalo News about the about those folks.) Not only does the budget now allow for funding to Planned Parenthood, it allows for taxpayer funding of abortions; allows for embryonic stem cell research, even though science has proven that is no longer is necessary; and did not restore funding for abstinence education, even though Virginia education policy is to teach abstinence.

We did have some major successes, however. One of our highest priorities, was new legislation that protects the religious liberty rights of students in public schools. HB 1135, patroned by Delegate William Fralin (R-17, Roanoke), passed both the House and the Senate overwhelmingly and is on Governor Tim Kaine's desk. Each year there are dozens of incidents, many of which go unreported, where students or teachers in Virginia's public schools suffer viewpoint discrimination because of hostility to religion or misunderstandings over the law. 

Two reported examples include a first grade student who was not allowed to read a story to her classmates because it contained the word "God," and a student whose art project was ripped up because it included the words "God Bless America." Each of these cases violates the Supreme Court's clear stance on viewpoint discrimination. HB 1135 places in the Code of Virginia language borrowed from Supreme Court precedent as well as federal guidelines on religious viewpoints in the classroom, and is based on a law passed last year in Texas.

The success (thus far) of Delegate Fralin's bill is on the heels of last year's religious liberty bill (HB 3082), also a Family Foundation priority, and patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge). Signed into law, it reiterates an individual's freedom of religion and prohibits a government entity from unduly burdening such right. It also allows for legal relief against the government when such rights are infringed upon. 

These two good pieces of legislation are simple, commonsense measures, yet make major progress toward restoring a sense of original constitutional intent on religious freedom. In fact, to show what an extremist bunch we are, HB 1135 passed the House 88-10 (before Senate amendments) and the Senate 39-1. So the success of these bills is a perfect illustration of the good that happens with the combination of an active electorate (grassroots) contacting their legislators and legislators who vote on the merits.

It also shows the persistence it takes in the legislative process to advance an issue. If your cause is just and right, it will happen, no matter the philosophical bent of those running the show. It may happen over time, and it may happen incrementally, but it will happen.