We finally have some answers as to why there was an unexpected and incorrect change in committee referrals to SB 504, a bill patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Roanoke) that would criminalize coerced or forced abortions. It was assigned to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, where it was heard in sub-committee earlier this week. Last night, all of a sudden, its legislative services Web page listed it as in the Committee on Education and Health. Cutting to the quick: SB 504 will, in fact, be heard in the full Courts of Justice Committee this afternoon. (Click here to see the committee docket.) So, while you're here, click to see the committee members and ask them to support it!
The question The Family Foundation asked was this: Is this a clerical error or an attempt to tamper with a pro-life bill that has seen unexpected success in the Senate? This morning, we did some digging and found an answer to our question.
In the Senate, the Clerk of the Senate (Susan Schaar) is responsible for referring all bills to committees. Mrs. Schaar is in an unelected position, however she holds an almost unparalleled amount of power in the Senate. Because of the way certain Senate committees are proportioned, assigning a bill to certain committees is often a foolproof way to secure the demise of a good bill. We see this often with pro-life bills in the Senate.
When we first received notice that SB504 would be sent to the Senate Courts committee, we were pleased because this was the first time a coerced abortion bill was properly placed. This bill addresses criminal and civil penalties and therefore belonged in the Courts committee, not Senate Education and Health where it had been referred in previous years.
Here’s what we found out from several sources is said to have happened: Mrs. Schaar said that she did not realize that SB504 had had a hearing in the Senate Courts subcommittee and therefore when she made last night’s change, she did so believing that she had changed the original referral back to the “proper” committee – Senate Education and Health. Mrs. Schaar said that since a hearing had taken place in the Courts subcommittee, she would allow SB504 to continue to be heard at the full Courts committee today. A clerical error? That’s for you to decide.
So as of now, SB504 has been returned to the appropriate committee and will be heard today at 2pm. Please keep the full Senate Courts Committee, Senator Ralph Smith and The Family Foundation staff in your prayers as a win in this committee today would be very significant for pro-family advocates. There will likely be efforts today to kill the bill either directly or subtly (re-referral to Senate Education and Health as Senator Don McEachin (D-9, Richmond) wanted in subcommittee). While there would be a few more hurdles left after this, today’s full committee is the most significant challenge and successful passage would be one of the largest accomplishments for pro-life advocates in years.