Under gray skies and icy weather the Virginia General Assembly Wednesday convened for the 2015 session, but the bad weather wasn't the only cloud hanging over the assembly. Last night, Richmond Delegate Joe Morrissey (I/D-74, Henrico), won a special election from jail after recently pleading to the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The charge stemmed from an alleged sexual relationship Morrissey had with a then 17 year old girl. Morrissey is 58. This, on top of the recent sentencing of former Governor Bob McDonnell on corruption charges, has cast an ominous shadow over Richmond as lawmakers begin this year's "short session" of 46 days.
With both chambers under Republican control, but a Democratic governor antithetical on nearly every issue, prospects of success on but a handful of issues seems unlikely. Incredibly, the Governor even used today's non-partisan, annual Prayer Breakfast as an opportunity to promote homosexuality. Add to that the fact that 2015 is an election year for all 140 seats in the General Assembly, the likelihood that session is dominated more by scoring political points than policy making grows by the day.
Regardless, The Family Foundation comes into this year's session with a common-sense, broad based agenda that advances our principles.
Two key bills relate to religious freedom. One, HB 1437, patroned by Delegate Dickie Bell (R-20, Staunton), clarifies for localities what prayer policies should be at local government meetings. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionally protected right to have prayer prior to government meetings, but several Virginia localities are struggling with crafting policies. HB 1437 uses language taken directly from the Supreme Court's Greece decision to clarify what elements the prayer policies need to contain.
A second religious freedom bill, SB 690, patroned by Senator Dick Black (R-13, Loudoun), returns from last year. The legislation will protect the rights of National Guard chaplains to minister according to their religious beliefs. Similar legislation passed the General Assembly last year but was vetoed by Governor Terry McAuliffe.
We'll also once again be championing legislation, HB 1626, which will allow home school students to try out for public high school sports teams. This legislation has passed the House in recent years, only to be defeated in the Senate Education and Health committee. That committee, however, has undergone a dramatic transformation, so we are hopeful the bill will see more success this year.
Budget transparency will be another priority for us this year. Bills that will ensure that legislator have more information about and more time to read budget negotiators' final budgets will be introduced. These bills will, hopefully, give lawmakers more time to review and change the final budget and avoid confusing or costly errors that have occurred.
Of course, since it is an election year, secular liberals in the General Assembly are introducing dozens of bills to repeal pro-life laws that are on the books, as well as threaten religious freedom. Each chamber has several, and as these bills are heard in various committees, we will let you know and urge you to contact your representatives.
Finally, I ask once again this year that you pray for our elected officials, their staffs, and our team here at The Family Foundation during the next 46 days. Session is a physically, emotionally and spiritually draining time, and we need God's wisdom, discernment and protection each and every day.