Archive for February 2008
The Legislative Session of the West Virginia legislature is only 60 days in length. Today marks the halfway, plus 1, point of this legislative session. By all accounts it has been a particularly quiet time in Charleston. But, just how quiet?
In 31 days, 1,736 bills have been introduced – which does not include any resolutions either (or both) house has introduced. Of the nearly 2,000 bills introduced, only 16 have passed through the Senate completely and 37 have made it all the way through the House of Delegates. Of those, only 2 have passed both houses. Neither, as of this writing, have been signed into law by Governor Manchin.
The point? Legislative action is slow. Legislative action in an election year is especially slow.
This Week at the Legislature
LIFE IN LEGISLATION
“Choose Life” License Plates
This past Tuesday, H.B. 4422 was introduced in the House of Delegates and would create the “Choose Life” license plate for anyone wishing to have one. The “Choose Life” program has generated much discussion throughout the country, including West Virginia. Currently, 16 states offer the license plate, 6 states are considering adopting the license plate, and 5 other states are engaged in litigation over the plate.
Some will remember that this issue has come through the West Virginia legislature in years past. If you recall, the bill generated not a little bit of debate in a state that is traditionally pro-life in the homes, but not as much in its governance.
Why all the fuss?
Obviously, the bill touches upon the issue of abortion, one the most debated social issues of the modern era. But, with the “Choose Life” license plates, some argue that – since the license plate is technically owned/issued by the government – the message contained thereon is government speech which must remain content neutral.
The reason? Different states have different provisions, but the “Choose Life” program was started to permit both the expression of one’s pro-life viewpoint as well as fund pro-life programs. To the latter point, when someone would purchase the “Choose Life” plate, a certain portion of the fee could be collected by the marketing agency and then distributed to programs offering adoption or other pro-life services.
But, because the government is the official issuer of the plate, some argued that this constituted the government speech. Because government must remain, “content neutral” in its speech, by permitting a license plate, government broke its own rule.
Today, several courts have held that what you put on your license plate is your speech, not the governments. Thus, in legal terms, the government has opened a “limited forum” (I.e., your license plate) for you to express your viewpoint. Under that scenario, there is no government speech argument to be made.
In West Virginia, the government has clearly opened a limited forum on our license plates. That is why you can purchase license plates to express your appreciation for everything from the Mountaineers to Bowling to the Shriners.
However, no new license plate program is permitted to charge a fee beyond those required by the DMV. Note the word, “new” in that sentence. At one time, this was an option. But, our legislature shut that door recently. Now, if H.B. 4422 passes, it will only express a viewpoint (which is good), but not fund pro-life programs (which would be even better).
Whether or not the legislature can allow some license plate programs to charge a special marketing fee, but not “Choose Life” is a question our lawyers at the West Virginia Values Coalition are reviewing very closely.
Delegate Tim Miley (D-Harrison) has introduced a bill that would make it a felony to abort a new life that was capable of surviving outside of the womb. H.B. 4392 would do much to protect life in West Virginia.
The introduction of this bill raises an interesting question: when is a child capable of surviving outside of the womb? Around the time that Roe v. Wade was decided, the viability of a new life was hotly debated, but few would have felt comfortable with abortion past the first week of the third trimester. However, it is clear that this idea is changing.
Last February, an Associated Press story noted the delivery and survival of Amillia Sonja Taylor. Amillia was born at 21 weeks, and 6 days gestation. It was, at the time, the earliest known child to survive being born prior to 23 weeks.
While Amillia’s miraculous story creates a strong argument that abortion on demand ought to be illegal after 22 weeks, the question lingers: if it is a life at 22 weeks gestation, why not at 21? 15? 5? 1?
The West Virginia Values Coalition believes that life is sacred from the moment of conception until its naturally occurring death. While we support Delegate Miley’s attempt to curb a largely unaccountable abortion industry, we continue to ask for the complete cessation one of history’s more barbaric activities: abortion.
We also call upon churches to prepare for the day that abortion in the United States is at an end. For, on that day, it will be the churches who must lead a compassionate charge to love, care, and support women in crisis pregnancies and the children they bear. This is part of our duty to care for the family.
H.B. 4463 sponsored by Del. Kenneth Tucker (D-Marshall) would be among the first bioethics laws in West Virginia.
American United For Life have assessed West Virginia’s bioethics laws as, “Dangerous.” The goal of Del. Tucker’s bill is to preserve and protect the survival of all human embryos in West Virginia. What is more, H.B. 4463 stands for adoption too – in a way many of us do not often think about.
Listen to how H.B. 4463 speaks of the value of life and family, “A frozen embryo may be transferred to another entity, located in the State of West Virginia, for preservation, or it may be made available to a married couple desiring to adopt it, to raise as their child. The goal for each frozen embryo located in the State of West Virginia is that it be adopted by a family in which it can live out its full life.”
Where some see a petri dish of tissue or genetics, we join Delegate Tucker in seeing a potential life. And – if you look closely – you may even see a completed family, together, living a full life.
So long as our bioethics laws remain “Dangerous,” such a family portrait exists only in our imagination.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN LEGISLATION
The West Virginia Freedom of Religion Act
On Thursday, the West Virginia Religious Freedom Act (click on “Press Releases” on our website for more information) was introduced by Delegates Shook (D-Monongalia), Majority Leader DeLong (D-Hancock), Azinger (R-Wood), Miley (D-Harrison), Varner (D-Marshall), Reynolds (D-Wayne), and Burdiss (D-Wyoming).
The West Virginia Religious Freedom Act (WVFRA) provides the maximum protection under the law of an individuals right to openly practice their faith. West Virginians have a deep appreciation for religion and its importance to their families. The passage of the WVFRA allows our laws to find agreement with our constitution. Moreover, it removes the ambiguous protection that our families current live under in West Virginia.
It is interesting to note that, when the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (the Federal corollary to the WVFRA) was passed in 1993, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved its language.
When was the last time Congress did anything unanimously?
When the Senate voted on it, the vote was 97-3 and was quickly signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The coalition in support of the Federal RFRA included the National Council of Churches, the American Jewish Committee, the American Muslim Committee, the Presbyterian Church, and the American Association of Christian Schools, among many others.
Nineteen other states have passed similar legislation, including: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Under WVFRA, a West Virginian would have their right to openly practice their faith maximally protected.
MARRIAGE IN LEGISLATION
This week, the Senate introduced it’s version of the same bill. Senators McCabe (D-Kanawha), Foster (D-Kanawha), Wells (D-Kanawha), Kessler (D-Marshall), Bailey (D-Wyoming), Minard (D-Harrison), Hunter (D-Monongalia), Jenkins (D-Cabell), White (D-Webster) introduced S.B. 600 would protect a person’s, “heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity or expression, whether actual or perceived” under the West Virginia Human Rights and Fair Housing Acts.
These bills are the “Trojan Horse of tolerance.” They purport to promote toleration and acceptance and to eliminate discrimination. In fact, if passed, laws like this would do much to create new levels of discrimination. As observed in last week’s update, these proposed laws undermine your freedom of conscience, religion, and right to contract.
Furthermore, the true aim of these bills is the redefinition of marriage and the family. That passage of these bills would provide an opportunity for the radical homosexual agenda to challenge West Virginia’s Defense of Marriage Act.
You have the right, as citizens and voters in West Virginia, to let your voices be heard on each of these bills. By encouraging, or discouraging, the action of your legislator on a particular bill, you actively participate in self-governance.
Family Voice is the official blog of the West Virginia Values Coalition, a 501(c)(3) research and education organization dedicated to standing for the Truth for the advancement of West Virginia’s famlies. Donate online at www.familypolicywv.com.
Part of our mission at the West Virginia Values Coalition is to keep West Virginia families informed about issues affecting today’s families. During each legislative session, several of those issues arise, but most families in West Virginia rarely hear about the hundreds of pieces of proposed legislation that could impact if passed.
During the 2008 legislative session, Family Voice will regularly highlight those proposed policies and provide much needed analysis and commentary from a Judeo-Christian worldview.
Summary: January 2008
It would be impossible to review each and every bill introduced. However, what follows are some highlights from the last 22 days of this legislative session.
Since the first day of this legislative session, January 9, 2008, literally thousands of bills have been introduced at the legislature. If you have been listening to any political news coverage in West Virginia lately, you are aware of some of the issues our legislators are facing. Teacher pay raises have been hotly debated. More recently, a discussion of whether or not to teach gun safety classes to our high school students has received national attention.
But, a very important milestone passed without much notice. January 22, 2008, marked 35 years since Roe v. Wade paved the way for abortion on demand. Since that time, more than 40 million innocent lives have been discarded as globs of tissue, rather than the precious lives they could have been.
Since the beginning of this legislative session, more than fifty (50) bills touching on the issues of abortion have been introduced.
Do you know how many have passed? Zero.
Do you know how many will likely pass? One.
Among them are bills like H.B. 2312 and H.B. 2313. These bills would require “prolife, antichoice, faith-based or abstinence only facilities” – or, as you and I might know them, “crisis pregnancy centers” – to create a litany of policies that would do little more than bind these organizations up in red tape and prevent them from accomplishing their mission to preserve life.
What is more, H.B. 2313 specifically requires the creating of “quality assurance programs” for each such facility. Interestingly, there exists no law requiring those facilities that perform abortions to have a comparable quality assurance program. Apparently, Delegates Brown and Hatfield (sponsors of H.B. 2312 and 2313) would rather busy organizations dedicated to saving life in quality assurance programs, rather than ensure those facilities whose life-taking procedures risk multiple lives give any “assurance” of “quality.”
S.B. 89 and S.B. 485 are two very commonsense bills. S.B. 89 would requires abortionists to follow their Hippocratic Oath and save the life of any child that survived an attempted abortion. S.B. 485 follows the example of the Federal government and bans the inhumane practice of partial-birth abortion.
How many of these proposed bills have you heard about? That is the unfortunate irony in West Virginia. Our legislators often talk a good talk about how “prolife” they are and, as they have already done, will introduce many pieces of legislation only to secure the endorsement of prolife organizations. While few, if any, laws that will preserve life and advance West Virginia’s families get passed, most West Virginians confess to be prolife.
The only way to resolve the irony is to let your legislator know what you want him or her to do. If they do not do it, elect someone who will. Remember, you hold the keys to the governance of this state.
Bills to Watch
It is almost getting tiresome to see the redundant efforts by a few try to sneak in what I like to call, “the Trojan horse of tolerance.” Delegates Fleischauer and Webster (among others) have once again trotted out H.B. 4164 in an effort to secure special rights for homosexuals. While billed as an effort to encourage “tolerance” for the homosexual community, in reality, this bill seeks to undermine marriage while giving additional rights to special interest groups.
H.B. 4164 would make it a violation of the Human Rights Act of West Virginia for employers to discriminate based upon one’s “sexual orientation.” How is “sexual orientation” defined? For the purposes of this bill, “sexual orientation” means, “heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity or expression, whether actual or perceived.”
This bill would require the government to create a brigade of thought police. It would mean that an employee sitting in the breakroom, reading his or her Bible could be “perceived” as discriminating against someone’s “sexual orientation.”
One’s “gender identity” is not a civil right and would upend half a century’s worth of civil rights laws. Civil rights, which the Human Rights Act is intended to protect, are based upon immutable characteristics. “Gender-identity” is – at best – a transient concept.
In attempting to end one form of discrimination, this bill, in fact, discriminates against many others. It assails one’s freedom of religion by neglecting to exempt religious organizations. In other words, a parochial school could be forced to hire and openly homosexual employee or face an expensive lawsuit.
It discriminates against one’s freedom of conscience, forcing an employer to sacrifice his or her sincerely held religious belief or face thousands of dollars in legal fees.
An organization’s religious liberty is likewise threatened. Under this bill, a church could be forced to rewrite theological doctrine, or face litigation. Political activists who attempt to advance these bills are simply trying to drive faith underground.
The real goal is to redefine the family. Most West Virginians do not approve of homosexual behavior. Homosexual rights activists know that they cannot win at the ballot box; hence, they use bills like H.B. 4164 to circumvent the democratic process in an effort to undermine the definition of marriage and challenge laws like West Virginia’s Defense of Marriage Act.
Laws should govern objective action, not subjective thoughts. While this bill is currently pending in committee, because it is sponsored by the Chairwoman of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee, it could come to a vote at any time.
Thankfully, you have the right to let your legislator know what you think about this bill. Unless you call your legislator, they will assume you approve of bills that contradict your values.
Family Voice is the official blog of the West Virginia Values Coalition, a 501(c)(3) research and education organization dedicated to standing for the Truth for the advancement of West Virginia’s famlies. Donate online at www.wvfpc.org.