Bills to curtail Virginia’s state-wide transgender mandates, restrict abortion, and ban teaching critical race theory in K-12 schools have all failed to pass both houses of the Virginia legislature this session. As Democrats control the Virginia Senate by a two-vote margin, that is not surprising. What is surprising is the defection of elected Republicans on bills that concern issues Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin aggressively campaigned on.
Virginia’s new governor had campaigned on opposition to critical race theory and transgender ideology. Many pundits see Democrat gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s admission in a September debate that he did not “think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” as a turning point in the race.
Current regulations require all school boards in Virginia to adopt transgender policies similar to those of Loudoun County — policies that literally open the door to males in women’s bathrooms and in females’ sports. The statewide policies even encourage school districts to hide children’s transgenderism from their parents by using the set of pronouns corresponding to biological sex while parents are present, and the other pronouns with children in school.
Last May, a boy dressed in a skirt was accused of entering the ladies’ restroom in a Virginia public school and forcibly sodomizing a 15-year-old girl. He was found guilty in juvenile court, yet, incredibly, Loudoun County Public Schools transferred the perpetrator to another school, where he allegedly sexually assaulted another student in October 2021. It is horrifying that current Virginia law forces school districts to allow males in women’s bathrooms, exactly the circumstances that allowed the rape in Loudoun to occur.
The whole tragic story came to light just weeks before Virginia’s gubernatorial election that saw the first Republican governor elected in the state since 2009. It was Youngkin’s forceful denunciations of insanity and duplicity like this in Virginia’s schools, as well as his constant and early opposition to critical race theory, that powered his rise to the governor’s office. It’s therefore puzzling that Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate are thwarting Youngkin’s vision.
Republicans Go against Youngkin
Republican Delegate Carrie Coyner voted against a bill, HB 988, that would allow school districts to ignore the statewide transgender mandates. As a result, the bill died in committee, thereby preventing a vote on the bill by the full House.
A very similar bill died in a Virginia Senate committee, with Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant not voting either for or against the bill. Dunnavant’s hesitancy to support a bill eliminating the transgender mandates might be explained by her vote to impose the mandates in the first place in early 2020. She was joined in that dangerous decision by fellow Senate Republican and minority leader Tommy Norment and in the House by Coyner and fellow GOP delegates Glenn Davis and Robert Bloxom. (To his credit, Davis voted for HB 988 in committee this session.)
Fortunately, Youngkin may have other avenues to reform. This year he will have five picks to the nine-member State Board of Education, which one Democratic delegate suspects may rewrite the statewide transgender policies with a view to enacting Youngkin’s vision. Regardless, Republican primary voters will have trouble avoiding the suspicion that their own nightmare is playing on repeat: yet another cycle of tough talk followed by mostly docile acceptance of the culture war status quo.
CRT and Sex Ed
There are other worrying signs along these lines. Coyner and Republican Del. Kim Taylor could not bring themselves to vote for two bills from Del. David LaRock, one that essentially bans the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools and another that would require parents to positively opt into sexual education (Coyner voted against both). When a similar CRT-ban bill died in a Senate committee, Dunnavant and fellow Senate Republican David Suetterlein missed the vote.
Regrettably, a bill from Del. John Avoli that would require students to use school facilities consistent with their biological sex, thereby preventing another Loudoun County-like incident, has not received a vote in committee. This session, Coyner also voted in favor of a bill permitting governors to close churches during a pandemic and, along with Bloxom, voted against homeschoolers being able to join public school sports teams.
Sens. Norment, Dunnanvant, Jill Vogel, and Jen Kiggans, all Republicans, voted for a constitutional amendment that eliminates the requirement that marriage be between one man and one woman and whose passage could pave the way for polygamy in Virginia. The constitutional amendment thankfully just died in a House committee.
It was also disappointing to see that Youngkin’s day-one legislative agenda did not include any language on restricting abortion, as Youngkin waged a strong pro-life campaign, going so far as to oppose abortions for children who feel pain (at least as early as 12 weeks).
A bill from Republican Sen. Amanda Chase to ban abortions after 20 weeks died in committee earlier this month. However, it appears the Virginia Senate has the votes to pass the bill. Only one Democrat senator is needed to ensure passage, and Democrat Sen. Joe Morrissey has already voiced his support.
The Republicans can try to force a vote on the floor by using “a long-shot procedural move,” according to the Associated Press, but Senate Minority Leader Norment said he is “Institutionally… opposed to discharging committees.” Republican Del. Rob Bell, the chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over the bill in the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats, said “there is no path forward for this bill,” even though that appears not to be the case. As only 1.3 percent of Virginia abortions occur after 20 weeks, this bill is hardly a tall order.
Republican Speaker Todd Gilbert does not seem willing to expend much political capital on the pro-life cause either. In response to a question directly after the election about his party’s plans to combat abortion, he oddly seemed to claim pro-life issues played a minimal part in the election. “You didn’t hear our caucus running on those things… We’re going to stay focused on the things we believe the majority of Virginians want us to focus on.”
This is curious coming from the same man who once baited Democrat Del. Kathy Tran to infamously admit in 2019 that a bill she sponsored would allow abortions right up until the moment of birth and that prompted Gov. Ralph Northam shortly thereafter to come out in favor of infanticide.
Republicans Need to Keep Their Credibility
But all is not doom and gloom. Republicans have managed to stay united and enact into law two important bills allowing parents to opt out of sexually explicit instruction and mask mandates. The House of Delegates has also passed a number of other bills protecting religious liberty in vaccination and other settings and imposing modest but important abortion restrictions. Alas, most of these bills are just sitting in the Senate.
On his first day in office, Youngkin sidestepped the legislature and issued an executive order that mandates Virginia’s education agency identify and ban “divisive concepts” like critical race theory in K-12 public schools. Hopefully, the order has the teeth to make the failed legislation on this topic unnecessary (until another Democrat takes the governor’s office and reverses it).
In Virginia’s House of Delegates Republicans outnumber Democrats 52-48, while in the Virginia Senate, Democrats outnumber Republican 21-19. This discrepancy partially explains the legislature’s uneven record on pro-life and pro-family legislation — but only partially. Republican defections, despite a clear pro-family mandate in 2021, are playing a role too, risking the party’s credibility with pro-lifers and parents who voted to end racist and radical transgender policies in Virginia’s public schools.
With the divided legislature, “failure” is too strong a description of the lack of pro-family, pro-parent legislative accomplishments this session. But a good place to start for Youngkin is by impressing on timid legislative Republicans that his historic election upset turned on precisely the same issues that have induced their timidity: cultural flashpoints on which the left took deeply harmful positions, and which Virginia voters emphatically rejected last November.
Parents and families are watching. Primaries are right around the corner.