As the General Assembly approaches “crossover,” the day after which each chamber can consider only bills that have passed the other chamber, dozens of bills have been disposed of in committee or, now and then, on the floor of either the House or Senate.
First the good news, a handful of bills creating new "hate crimes" were defeated in House and Senate committees this week. And though it may sound strange, that is a victory for conscience rights.
Hate crimes essentially punish thought, and one could be subject to a separate criminal penalty, including jail time, not for the actual crime, but simply because of the thoughts at the time. In Virginia, conviction of a hate crime carries with it a “mandatory minimum” of 30 days in jail. One can clearly see the slippery slope created by this sort of “thought crime”. What sort of thoughts, values, or motivations might the state try to criminalize next?
As we watch the progressive left use violence and bullying to silence speech it doesn’t like, criminalizing thoughts in any way is a dangerous step. Luckily, those in the House and Senate courts committees agreed.
Last Thursday, we saw our top religious liberty proposal pass the House of Delegates. This bill, which passed last year but was vetoed by Governor Terry McAuliffe, protects religious charities and schools from being discriminated against by the state simply because those organizations don’t hold the Governor’s view of marriage. (A Senate version passed committee Friday afternoon.)
Also this week, the House passed a resolution recognizing pornography as a serious public health problem. The devastating effects of pornography on society are now being chronicled in research and for many, in their own lives. From addiction to destroying marriages to its impact on human trafficking, few reasonable people see anything positive in the exploitation of men and women through pornography. Recently, South Dakota became the second state to recognize pornography as a public health hazard. Though this resolution falls short of that, it has brought attention to this serious problem.
Not all, however, went as we hoped this week. Legislation we supported that would have made Virginia’s Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit program more attractive to corporate donors failed in the House of Delegates on a “voice vote.” The bill would have increased the tax credit from 65 to 90 percent, bringing Virginia in line with other states that have similar programs. Already, nearly 2,500 low and middle income children are benefiting from the program, which last school year saved the Commonwealth over $4 million. Unfortunately, those arguments didn’t win the day as the bill died on a procedural vote. The good news on school choice is that other proposals, including expanding virtual and charter schools and creating Education Savings Accounts are still making their way through the legislature.
Thank you again to everyone who has responded to our Action Alerts! With all the bills that will be voted on by both the House and Senate on Monday and Tuesday, I know you’ve received several alerts. These are important issues so we hope you’ll be patient and take the time to act so that your elected officials hear from you!