Surrounded by melting snow and warming temperatures, lawmakers returned to Richmond yesterday for the start of the 2017 Virginia General Assembly session.

To kick off the session, we hosted our Family Advocacy Day and 5th Annual Prayer Walk.  Dozens of citizen activists roamed the hallways of the General Assembly, met with their legislators and joined in prayer groups around the Capitol to pray for our elected officials and the new session.  We were also honored to host several dozen pastors and ministry leaders with our Virginia Pastor Network Luncheon, with special guest speaker former Governor Bob McDonnell.    

The next 45 days will set the stage for the 2017 statewide elections.  In November, Virginians will vote for a Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, as well as all 100 members of the House of Delegates.  Consequently, expect a lot of posturing, partisanship and media-driven hysterical narratives about what’s happening in Richmond, which started last night with Governor Terry McAuliffe’s State of the Commonwealth address, in which he warned against legislation that would protect the safety, privacy and dignity of women and children in Virginia. 

And, just yesterday I saw an email from the Democrat Party of Virginia hysterically attacking a bill that would prohibit abortion after the mid-point of pregnancy – when science indicates an unborn child can feel pain – calling it a “restrictive, abominable abortion ban bill.”  Incredibly, the US is one of only seven countries around the world that still allows elective abortions after the mid-point of pregnancy!  That is abominable!  And it's high time Virginia join the 18 other states that have passed similar protections for the unborn.

Regardless of the narratives, The Family Foundation comes into this year’s session with a common-sense, broad-based agenda that advances our principles. 

A top priority will be the reinforcement of religious liberty protections that would prohibit state government from penalizing entities such as faith-based charities and colleges for their moral or religious beliefs regarding marriage and sexuality.  This legislation passed the General Assembly last session, only to be vetoed by Governor McAuliffe.  Just last week Governor McAuliffe issued an Executive Order that constitutes one of the most anti-religious freedom policies in the nation by restricting the charities and businesses with which the state does business to only those that have a viewpoint of marriage and sexuality that is in line with the Governor’s personal beliefs.  State Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax) and Delegate Nick Freitas (R-30, Culpeper) are carrying crucial religious liberty legislation.

The Family Foundation will once again support efforts that protect Virginia taxpayers from being forced to subsidize Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion business, particularly in light of a recent Congressional investigation that confirmed that organization’s involvement in a fetal-body-part-selling-for-profit-scandal.  There are well over one hundred community based health centers in Virginia, many in areas that do not have Planned Parenthood abortion centers, that offer real health care for women.  Those health centers should be prioritized for taxpayer dollars before a dime goes to Planned Parenthood.  Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) is once again patroning this important bill.

We are also supporting legislation this year that will protect the free speech rights of students on college campuses.  The reports around the nation of conservative speakers being denied opportunity to speak, speech codes and “safe spaces” on college campuses indicate a campus culture run amok, and the victims of this discrimination are usually conservative Christians. 

As always, we will also fight against bills that threaten religious freedom and seek to roll back important pro-life, pro-family gains from recent years.  Already, secular liberals in the General Assembly have introduced numerous bills that elevate sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to special status in the law.  Couched as bills that will “help our economy” and “stop discrimination,” the truth is that these laws are used to discriminate!  In every case you’ve heard about where a business owner has faced fines or jail for not wanting to participate in a same-sex wedding, the attacks are based on these “SOGI” laws.

I hope you will commit to taking action when we call on you over the next few weeks.  Legislators need to hear from you!  When you get an “Action Alert” from us, please take just a moment to influence your Delegate or Senator.  We know that we send many Action Alerts during session, but the pace in Richmond is fast and furious and your activity is critical!

I also 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 45 days.  Session is a physically, emotionally and spiritually draining time, and we need God’s wisdom, discernment and protection each and every day.