Today, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-5-1 to report HB 1642 to the full Senate. Now we are ever so close to getting this bill to Governor Bob McDonnell’s desk, but we need your help.
The Senate previously passed another version of this bill, but it is still sitting in a House committee, its fate unknown. But HB 1642, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City County), gives us a clear path to becoming law.
It has been a bit of a byzantine route for the bill so far, amended and re-amended, but Friday the Senate Courts of Justice Committee agreed to amendments that strengthened the bill after House amendments weakened it. Surprisingly, interest groups, such as the Trial Lawyers, the Virginia Bar Association, the Medical Society of Virginia and others agreed to them and the bill even earned the vote of liberal Senator Donald McEachin (D-9, Henrico).
In a last effort to scuttle the bill, committee opponents rehashed hypothetical scenarios that missed the point entirely, claiming that a parent who abandoned a child for 10 years could return and claim a “fundamental right” to custody. Anticipating the question, Deputy Attorney General Wes Russell told them they were confusing issues: the definitional statutes of who is a legal parent and a legal parent’s rights. They had no reply and discussion promptly ended and the vote ensued.
The bill enshrines parental rights in Virginia law as a “fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education and care” of their children. That is significant because courts give special deference to “fundamental rights.” It also locks in a recent unanimous Virginia Supreme Court ruling, declaring parental rights are fundamental, so a future court cannot reverse the decision. The threat is real: 24 other states have reduced parental rights to “ordinary.” HB 1642 directly addresses that concern.
More scare attempts likely will be made on the Senate floor during its debate early this week. Please contact your senator and ask him or her to stay strong and vote yes for parents’ rights and HB 1642. In Virginia, it’s time to reassert foundational principles such as the fundamental right of parents to raise their children.