Virginia General Assembly Continues to Erode Civil Rights

Richmond, VA -- The ACLU of Virginia today released its annual review of the Virginia legislative session.  Civil Liberties Review: Virginia General Assembly 2012 describes over 100 bills introduced in the General Assembly that advance or diminish civil liberties in Virginia.

The bills are divided into 11 categories:  First Amendment, Privacy Rights, Death Penalty, Equal Rights, Reproductive Rights, Immigrants’ Rights, Women’s Rights, Voting and Elections, Criminal Justice, Felon Disenfranchisement and Open Government.   Unless special instructions are included, all bills that passed in the 2012 Session and were signed by the Governor became law on July 1.

“The 2012 session was one of the most difficult for civil liberties advocates,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga.  “Bills we were able to defeat in the past were enacted by a legislature increasingly hostile to civil rights. Lowlights include the setback dealt to voting rights with the new voter ID law, the establishment of a quasi-taxpayer funded school voucher system, and a law allowing taxpayer funded private adoption and foster care agencies to use religious or “moral” beliefs to discriminate against potential parents and children in the system based on individual characteristics such as age, religion, disability or sexual orientation.  But the 2012 session will probably be most remembered for its erosion of reproductive freedom and the passage of the highly controversial mandatory ultrasound bill.”

“There is little to cheer about this year,” added Gastañaga. “Lawmakers did make a positive symbolic statement by passing a law opposing the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens.  And, we were able to thwart efforts to pass additional anti-immigrant legislation, prohibit abortion at twenty weeks gestation, require drug testing of public assistance recipients, and prohibit protests at funerals.”

“Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this year’s session is that, because of Virginia’s highly partisan, incumbent-driven legislative redistricting process, 2012 was just the first difficult session in what will be a decade of difficult sessions for those of us who are advocates for expanding (not contracting) the right to vote, protecting Virginians against government intrusion in their most personal decisions, and securing basic free speech and due process rights for those whose causes or circumstances don’t usually garner broad public support,” Gastañaga concluded.

The 18-page Review is available online at  A summary of some of the most important bills addressed during the session follows.

Contacts: Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director Hope Amezquita, Legislative Counsel Office: 804-644-8022




Civil Liberties Review 2012 – Quick View


Page numbers refer to Civil Liberties Review: Virginia General Assembly 2012

I. Civil Liberties Victories 2012

Passed bills that protect civil liberties

  • Opposing Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens--HB 1160 prohibits Virginia from assisting the federal government or U.S. military in the investigation, prosecution or indefinite detainment of U.S. citizens under the National Defense Authorization Act when it violates the Virginia Constitution.  (Criminal Justice, p.17)
  • Protocol for Warrants Related to Use of GPS – HB 1298 and SB 685 codify the U.S. Supreme Court Decision, U.S. v. Jones, by establishing protocol for law enforcement’s use of location-tracking devices.   (Privacy Rights, p.5)

Failed bills that would have eroded civil liberties had they passed

  • Prohibiting Protests at Funerals – HB 707 and SB 434 would have prohibited intentionally disruptive protests sixty minutes before, during, and immediately after funerals and memorial services. (First Amendment, p. 4)
  • Prohibiting Abortion at Twenty Weeks Gestation – HB 1285 and SB 637 would have prohibited abortion after 20 weeks gestation unless, in reasonable medical judgment, the mother is at risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function or death. (Reproductive Rights, p.11)
  • Defining Personhood -- HB 1 would have granted fertilized eggs the status of persons under Virginia law, subject only to the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court precedents. If passed, this bill could have outlawed all abortions and contraception in Virginia if current court precedents were overturned.  (Reproductive Rights, p. 10)
  • Drug Testing of Public Assistance Recipients -- HB 73 and SB 6 would have required local departments of social services to screen all Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare (VIEW) applicants for drug use and to conduct drug tests on all those who fail to pass the drug screen.  Failure of the drug test or refusal to take the drug test makes applicants ineligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits (Privacy Rights, p. 6 )

II. Civil Liberties Defeats 2012

Passed bills that erode civil liberties 

  • Mandatory Ultrasounds Prior to Abortions -- HB 462 requires a doctor to perform an ultrasound prior to performing any abortion regardless of whether the test is medically justified or the woman consents. It also requires, that the woman be offered the opportunity to view an image of the fetus and hear the fetal heartbeat, and that the picture from the ultrasound be maintained in the woman’s medical record for seven years.  (Reproductive Rights, p.10)
  • Discrimination by Adoption and Foster Care Agencies -- HB 189 and SB 349 allow taxpayer funded private foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate against potential parents and prospective foster or adoptive children on the basis of individual characteristics including sexual orientation, age, disability, marital status or religion if the agency says such discrimination is based on its religious or “moral” beliefs. (Equal Rights, p.8)
  • Voter ID – HB 9 and SB 1 require voters who forget to bring their IDs to the polls to cast a provisional ballot and get their ID to the registrar within three days of the election if their vote is to count. Previously, they could have signed an affidavit under penalty of perjury and cast their vote on the voting machines just like any other voter.  (Voting and Elections, p.13)
  • Taxpayer-funded School Vouchers – HB 321 and SB 131establish tax credits for corporations that make donations to non-profit organizations which provide scholarships to students to attend private elementary or secondary schools, including religious schools. (First Amendment, p.3)