Yesterday was "crossover," the mid-point of the 2013 General Assembly session and the day when each chamber must complete work on its own bills. It's also a day that saw two substantial pro-family victories. The Senate passed a priority for The Family Foundation — legislation that protects the free association rights of students on public college campuses. SB 1074, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), ensures that the current practice on the majority of our campuses will continue and that religious and political organizations will not be discriminated against because of their beliefs and values. The bill passed 22-18 with several Democrats joining Republicans to pass the legislation. The House companion bill, HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), passed 80-19 late last week.
In the House, legislation protecting parental rights as fundamental passed 70-30! The bill, HB 1642, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City County), reflects a recent decision by the Virginia Supreme Court that recognizes parental rights as fundamental. However, 24 states have reduced parental rights from fundamental to "ordinary," making it easier for government bureaucrats to interfere with families. This is significant because courts give special deference to "fundamental" rights and putting it in the Virginia Code secures it from a future Virginia court from rewriting the recent decision. Currently, Virginia law is silent on the status of parental rights, instead relying on hundreds of years of common law, which has granted parents fundamental in principle.
A similar bill previously passed the Senate, but because the bills are slightly different, we will continue to work with the patrons and representatives of parental rights groups to bring them into "conformity" for final passage later this session. The Senate bill is SB 908 and is patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Spotsylvania) and will be in the House Courts of Justice Committee today.
In the past two days, other legislation supported by The Family Foundation also advanced, including bills that combat human trafficking, help ease restrictions on the creation of charter schools, and provide a definition of bullying for the Department of Education as it works on guidelines to help schools combat that serious problem.
Unfortunately, all news today wasn't good. The Senate decided to send SJ 287, a religious liberty constitutional amendment, back to committee, effectively killing the bill for this year. Based on an amendment that passed last year in Missouri, the amendment would have given Virginians the opportunity to vote to re-establish our right to pray at the start of government meetings and protect students' religious liberty rights. As we continue to watch the federal government infringe upon our God given right to express our faith in the public square, Virginians want to be able to respond. Our goal will continue to be to reinforce our First Freedom, through statute and, if necessary, a constitutional amendment. We thank Senator Bill Stanley (R-20, Moneta), the resolution's patron, and Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), the chief co-patron, for their very hard work and inspired and passionate words yesterday on the Senate floor.
In the coming days we will again notify you to take urgent action on key bills. Thank you to everyone who has contact their legislators so far! You voice does make a difference.