Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.
Reeves’ parental rights bill advances
Parental rights would be enshrined in state law under a bill narrowly advanced through a Senate committee on Monday.
The bill, from Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, says “the liberty of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child is a fundamental right.”
Reeves said his bill simply puts in law existing practice in court.
“There’s been an encroachment on parental rights,” Reeves told the Senate Courts of Justice committee. “This bill would do nothing more than codify what is already there in Virginia law.”
But others said they fear his bill opens up the door to a host of unforeseen consequences.
Pat Lacy of the Virginia School Boards Association said he fears Reeves’ bill — with language that specifically mentions a parental right to direct their child’s education — would give fodder to parents who don’t want their public-school child to be vaccinated, or take gym class, for example.
Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, agreed.
“This could have a pretty big impact on the public school system,” Edwards said.
The term “fundamental right” is a technical legal term, said Edwards and Scott Woodruff, an attorney who defends home-school families and said he was representing Parentalrights.org — a group advocating bills like Reeves’.
“Our most precious rights we put in this category fundamental,” Woodruff said, with stronger protections against government encroachment.
He said that while Virginia courts currently treat parental rights as fundamental, that could change in the future, and that Reeves’ bill is “cheap insurance against a nasty surprise.”
Committee staff attorney Steve Benjamin warned senators that they might be the ones seeing a nasty surprise if they passed Reeves’ bill, because he didn’t know what impact it might have on other areas of law.
For example, Benjamin said, it makes no distinction between married parents, non-married parents, anonymous sperm donors, etc.
“If you’re a non-custodial parent, does this now give you a new right?” Benjamin asked.
Sen. Henry Marsh, D-Richmond, said the wording of Reeves’ bill was too vague.
‘This could mean anything. I don’t know what this does,” Marsh said. “We don’t pass laws like this.”
But the committee did pass the bill, on an 8 to 6 vote. A similar bill is also moving through the House of Delegates.
Reeves’ bill must now go through the full Senate.