By Shelby Mertens
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Starting July 1, parents in Virginia will have “a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care” of their children.
Gov. Bob McDonnell signed two identical bills on the issue: House Bill 1642, sponsored by Delegate Brenda Pogge, R-Williamsburg; and Senate Bill 908, sponsored by Sen. Bryce Reeve, R-Fredericksburg. The bills formally declare parental rights as fundamental, meaning they will have the highest level of legal protection.
“The bill is pre-emptive and will not change any laws in Virginia,” Pogge said in an email. “It will, however, prevent parental rights from being eroded through potential court actions. I am very happy that it was passed and signed. It was important to a lot of people.”
The purpose of the legislation is to prevent Virginia courts from ruling parental rights as “ordinary” rights.
“Fundamental” means these rights cannot be taken away unless the state has a compelling reason to do so. When rights are “ordinary,” the state has more leeway in overriding parents’ decisions.
Parental rights include any legal obligations that go with being a parent, such as the right to custody or visitation, the right and obligation to provide financial support, and the obligation to provide the child with proper care and supervision.
Although the Virginia Supreme Court has declared parental rights as fundamental in every case it has considered, the General Assembly had never before defined what level of protection parents have.
Both HB 1642 and SB 908 were approved by split votes in the House and Senate. Republicans overwhelmingly favored the measures while Democrats generally opposed them.