This year’s “short session” of Virginia’s General Assembly is moving at an increasingly rapid pace in the House of Delegates as legislation is being reported out of committee and onto the House floor.
We will soon approach cross-over, the term used for when bills passed in each house of the legislature are presented to the other for consideration.
Included in this number will likely be a couple of measures I have sponsored which, having reported out of committee, I anticipate will soon gain passage.
Another bill I submitted has proven more controversial, generating particular media attention last week.
House Bill 1456, as written, would authorize a local child-protective services department to open an investigation or perform a family assessment after validating a report or complaint of illegal drug use by a pregnant woman when her unborn child would be harmed by the continued use of the controlled substances.
Currently, social services departments may only intervene upon receiving these reports after a child has been delivered, and sadly, the damage has been done.
My legislation is offered as a remedy to this problem whereby services could be provided to pregnant women in an attempt to spare their unborn children from the devastating consequences of prenatal substance abuse.
The bill itself is the result, in part, of a special work meeting held by the criminal law subcommittee this past fall to address the rising heroin problem in Virginia.
I was happy to sponsor this measure because in my law practice I have witnessed both the debilitating results to children who have been exposed to drugs in the womb, as well as the value of preventative child services offered through the Department of Social Services.
Unfortunately, the bill was targeted by the ACLU and wrongly portrayed as a way to punish pregnant women.
This characterization patently misrepresents the measure, which has no punishment component, in contrast to a criminal code provision that became law in Tennessee last year.
Furthermore, this bill makes no attempt to alter or increase the type of monitoring that is already available to child protective services, nor does it grant to them any additional enforcement powers.
Nevertheless, I was informed by the governor’s office that his administration would oppose the bill, and it was emphasized that of primary concern with its passage would be the elevation of the legal status conferred upon a “fetus” under Virginia’s code.
Soon thereafter, the administration attached a fiscal impact statement to the bill which, in my view, highly exaggerates the cost of implementing this policy.
For this, and some other concerns, the bill’s passage out of committee this year appears, at the time of this writing, to be bleak.
Although this legislation will not likely pass this year, or at any time be signed into law by the current administration, I do believe that the important conversation about the problem of prenatal substance abuse has been aided by its introduction.
The harm to unborn children by a mother’s illegal drug use is a serious public health and safety concern worthy of attention by the commonwealth.
And while I will work with those who have expressed honest concerns relating to the actual mechanics of addressing this problem, I will also be counted on to seek ways to protect the gift of life through all of its stages.
Del. Les Adams of Chatham represents the 16th District, which includes most of Pittsylvania County as well as Martinsville and part of Henry County.