SUCCESS IN THE VIRGINIA LEGISLATURE
Update from Bill Casey of VOTF Northern Virginia
As the battle for extensions of SOLs and retroactive “windows” rages
in several state legislatures, the Virginia General Assembly, for the fourth
consecutive year, considered the “radical proposal” to require
clergy to report suspected abuse or neglect of children. The only opposition
to this bill was from the Independent Baptists, but for three years they successfully
pressured legislators to kill the bill as an intrusion of the state in religious
practice, despite an exception for information obtained in sacramental or counseling
Accepting the political realities, a dozen or more members of the Northern
Virginia affiliate (along with leaders of the Tidewater Virginia affiliate)
put on a full court press to advocate passage of SB 253, in collaboration with
the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and the Virginia Catholic
Conference—direct contacts with legislators, with constituents in key
districts, a press release to all state newspapers, Op-Ed pieces, etc.
This year, the legislators blinked but they could not swallow their Church/State
concerns. As a result, they passed a compromise bill that requires any citizen
(in addition to other state-mandated reporters, such as teachers, doctors etc.)
to report suspected abuse/neglect of children, provided they have completed
training approved by the state Department of Social Services. Without the compromise,
the bill was doomed for another defeat. With the compromise, it passed unanimously.
The bill now awaits the expected signature of the Governor. The effective date
is likely to be July 1, 2006.
Although affiliate members were deeply disappointed that clergy are not specifically
mandated to report, they know the outcome is a breakthrough and that they have
leverage to push the two Catholic dioceses to train their clergy and become
mandated reporters. In fact, the training already received by Catholic clergy
under the Charter will most likely satisfy the requirement and the Virginia
Council of Churches is expected to call for all Churches to meet the training
We’re well behind the other states in child protection and survivor
justice legislation, but we broke a formidable obstacle nonetheless.