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NASW Virginia Chapter Advocacy Center
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Jan. 11, 2023 - General Assembly Reconvenes; NASWVA Launches Advocacy Strategy to Protect Human Rights, Advance the Social Work Profession, and Boost Funding and Salaries As legislators settle in for a short, 46-day General Assembly session, NASW Virginia Chapter has been preparing for the rapid onslaught of bills on everything from reproductive rights to gun safety, as well as on professional issues such as mental health funding and salaries of behavioral health workers. Here are some of our top policy priorities: Social Justice Reproductive Justice: At least five extreme anti-abortion, anti-healthcare-provider bills were submitted for committee review in the first 48 hours of the new session, including a “life begins at conception” resolution, a ban on reproductive health activities such as providing free birth control and teen pregnancy prevention programs, and a 15-week abortion ban put forth by Gov. Youngkin. In addition, Youngkin’s proposed budget amendments include $50,000 to criminalize healthcare providers and patients in association with an abortion ban, and a mandate that low-income Virginians carry pregnancies with severe fetal diagnoses to full term. The victory of Aaron Rouse (D, 7th District, Virginia Beach) over Kevin Adams (R) gives pro-choice legislators a slim advantage predicted to kill these efforts early and often. However, it’s critical to keep pressure high to protect the right to reproductive freedom and the lives of those who provide reproductive services. LGBTQ Rights: Youngkin has already attacked transgender rights in public schools, and our chapter submitted expert comments, participated in a coalition press conference, and published an op-ed of outrage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. We expect more attempts to roll back or test anti-discrimination laws and court rulings—and we’ll continue to speak out about the mental and physical harm to LGBTQ populations caused by antics such as forced outing by teachers, bans on transgender-inclusive sports (as proposed in one bill), and LGBTQ book banning. In addition, Democrats have prioritized legislation to remove the state’s antiquated constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which would go into immediate effect if the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverses its past ruling recognizing this right in the U.S. Constitution. Gun Safety and Violence: The January shooting of a teacher by a 6-year-old in Newport News horrified the nation, but it hasn’t surprised many teachers and others who have experienced or witnessed increased gun violence in the past two years. Virginia has one of the least-restrictive laws in the country in terms of “securing” a gun; indeed, a gun jammed between two seats in a car is considered “secure!” Most other states require guns in cars to be “secured” in special locked cases and follow other safety requirements both in any vehicle and at home. In addition, legislation is already proposed to reverse the evidence-based red-flag law passed several years ago that temporarily removes firearms from individuals deemed mentally unfit to have them at that time. The chapter will continue to support Virginia’s red-flag law and advocate for stronger gun safety laws that aim to prevent tragedies such as school shootings, suicide by gun, and other situations. Solitary Confinement: Through its leadership in coalitions, the chapter will continue its longtime fight against the ongoing misuse of solitary confinement that can result in serious, long-term mental problems by imprisoned people in our state. Voting Rights and Engagement: The January special election in Virginia Beach was decided by around 400 votes—a prime example of why every vote counts! Fighting against voter access restrictions such as reduced early-voter periods, fewer ballot drop-off sites, and shorter absentee ballot delivery times are among the voting rights battles we expect before the general election this fall. [Note: For social workers in Congressional District 4, early voting in the special election between State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D) and Leon Benjamin is open! Election day is February 21.] Professional Issues: Mental Health Funding and Policy Changes: In December, Youngkin released ”Right Help, Right Now,” a $220-million “Transformational Behavioral Health Plan” centered around new regional crisis centers, mobile crisis units, and community services boards. The increased funding would be used to boost staffing and salaries at state mental health hospitals, expand mental health resources and professionals in schools, and secure safer housing of foster children, among other programs. The chapter will be monitoring implementation with an eye to the excellent points made in this op-ed by 2021 NASWVA Legislator of the Year Sen. Creigh Deeds. Deeds applauds the greater attention to mental health but calls for more long-term-oriented actions. COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: On January 11, the 12th extension of the U.S. public health state of emergency on COVID-19 was announced in response to rising rates of variant XBB.1.5 and the perceived economic need to continue COVID relief programs across the country, including Virginia. We will continue to advocate for telehealth permanence and other pandemic-related issues that improve access and care of clients.

Learn the latest about the national NASW advocacy agenda and how you can get involved during a Lunch and Learn with NASW Director of Public Policy Sarah Butts at our Joint Annual Conference March 23-25 in person in Williamsburg and live-virtually April 20-22. Early-bird discounts end January 31, so hurry and book your seat and hotel room!

What does NASW Virginia Chapter do to influence state policy and regulations?

 

Advocacy on professional practices and social justice has been core to the mission of NASW and its Virginia Chapter since its inception. The chapter monitors bills; communicates chapter stances to legislators; educates elected officials on behavioral health and social justice issues; helps craft or influence bill/resolution language; and alerts and activates social workers and chapter members and students about when and how to use their power as knowledgeable

constituents to influence legislative and regulatory outcomes.

 

The chapter also is deeply involved in or collaborates with numerous Virginia coalitions and organizations or partners, since rarely is genuine policy progress made by advocating alone.

 

These coalitions include the following:

  • Compassionate Choices

  • Solitary Confinement Coalition

  • Voices for Virginia’s Children

  • National Association of Mental Illness

  • Poverty Law Center

  • Equality Virginia

  • ACLU Virginia

 

What is the chapter doing now on advocacy?

 

As legislators settle in for a short, 46-day General Assembly session, NASW Virginia Chapter has been preparing for the rapid onslaught of bills on everything from reproductive rights to gun safety, as well as on professional issues such as mental health funding and salaries of behavioral health workers. It’s critical that we have engaged members in diverse specialties who are willing to detail the client impacts and outcomes of policy proposals.

 

Check this website often for updates.  

What bills are NASW Virginia tracking in the 2023 General Assembly?
 

Glad you asked! Here is the current list, but please be aware that bill and resolution numbers can evolve or die, new bills may emerge suddenly, etc. Advocacy work is complex and ever-shifting, and while the chapter aims to keep members as informed as possible, sometimes the speed of change and limited chapter resources mean a delay in member updates while we concentrate on executing the time-sensitive work. Below is list as of January 13, 2023:

 

Social Justice
 

Reproductive Justice: At least five extreme anti-abortion, anti-healthcare-provider bills were submitted for committee review in the first 48 hours of the new session, including a “life begins at conception” resolution, a ban on reproductive health activities such as providing free birth control and teen pregnancy prevention programs, and a 15-week abortion ban put forth by Gov. Youngkin.

In addition, Youngkin’s proposed budget amendments include $50,000 to criminalize healthcare providers and patients in association with an abortion ban, and a mandate that low-income Virginians carry pregnancies with severe fetal diagnoses to full term.

The victory of Aaron Rouse (D, 7th District, Virginia Beach) over Kevin Adams (R) gives pro-choice legislators a slim advantage predicted to kill these efforts early and often. However, it’s critical to keep pressure high to protect the right to reproductive freedom and the lives of those who provide reproductive services.

LGBTQ Rights: Youngkin has already attacked transgender rights in public schools, and our chapter submitted expert comments, participated in a coalition press conference, and published an op-ed of outrage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. We expect more attempts to roll back or test anti-discrimination laws and court rulings—and we’ll continue to speak out about the mental and physical harm to LGBTQ populations caused by antics such as forced outing by teachers, bans on transgender-inclusive sports (as proposed in one bill), and LGBTQ book banning.

In addition, Democrats have prioritized legislation to remove the state’s antiquated constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which would go into immediate effect if the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverses its past ruling recognizing this right in the U.S. Constitution.

Gun Safety and Violence: The January shooting of a teacher by a 6-year-old in Newport News horrified the nation, but it hasn’t surprised many teachers and others who have experienced or witnessed increased gun violence in the past two years. Virginia has one of the least-restrictive laws in the country in terms of “securing” a gun; indeed, a gun jammed between two seats in a car is considered “secure!” Most other states require guns in cars to be “secured” in special locked cases and follow other safety requirements both in any vehicle and at home.

In addition, legislation is already proposed to reverse the evidence-based red-flag law passed several years ago that temporarily removes firearms from individuals deemed mentally unfit to have them at that time.

The chapter will continue to support Virginia’s red-flag law and advocate for stronger gun safety laws that aim to prevent tragedies such as school shootings, suicide by gun, and other situations.

Solitary Confinement: Through its leadership in coalitions, the chapter will continue its longtime fight against the ongoing misuse of solitary confinement that can result in serious, long-term mental problems by imprisoned people in our state.

Voting Rights and Engagement: The January special election in Virginia Beach was decided by around 400 votes—a prime example of why every vote counts! Fighting against voter access restrictions such as reduced early-voter periods, fewer ballot drop-off sites, and shorter absentee ballot delivery times are among the voting rights battles we expect before the general election this fall.

[Note: For social workers in Congressional District 4, early voting in the special election between State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D) and Leon Benjamin is open! Election day is February 21.]  


Professional Practice

 

Mental Health Funding and Policy Changes: In December, Youngkin released ”Right Help, Right Now,” a $220-million “Transformational Behavioral Health Plan” centered around new regional crisis centers, mobile crisis units, and community services boards. The increased funding would be used to boost staffing and salaries at state mental health hospitals, expand mental health resources and professionals in schools, and secure safer housing of foster children, among other programs.

In addition to NASWVA’s work on numerous social justice-related bills, it also is working closely with legislators to co-develop a number of professional bills:

 

  • A bill (HB 2231) expanding the powers and duties of the Board of Social Work to require that it maintain a list of the names and contact information of persons approved by the board to supervise candidates for licensure as a clinical social worker and allows supervisees pursuing licensure as a clinical social worker to change or add a supervisor from the board's list of approved supervisors without prior board approval. The Committee on Health, Welfare, and Institutions is scheduled to hear the bill January 17.

  • A bill related to the Social Worker Student Loan Grant Program (a code amendment to Article 2 of Chapter 1 of Title 32.1 an article a section 2 numbered 32.1-15.2). "Eligible” social workers must be licensed as required by §54.1-3706, have worked full-time as a licensed social worker in a critical human service area for at least 20 hours per week during the past year, have eligible outstanding student loan debt, have lived in the Commonwealth for a year prior to this application, and have Virginia taxable income. The Licensed Social Worker Student Loan Grant Program—administered by the Virginia Board of Health—would be established to increase the number of social workers serving in critical human service areas. Grant awards are for $6,500, and no recipient can receive cumulative awards over $26,000. A social worker in default on a student loan is ineligible until the default status is resolved.

  • A bill that establishes a Mental Health Professional Loan Repayment Program for licensed clinical social workers, social work students, licensed clinical mental health counselors, mental health professionals as defined in that § 54.1-2400.1, and other professionals who provide mental health services. Recipients must agree to provide mental health services for at least three years in a medically underserved area of Virginia. The Commissioner of the Board of Health would administer these funds.

The chapter will be monitoring implementation with an eye to the excellent points made in this op-ed by 2021 NASWVA Legislator of the Year Sen. Creigh Deeds. Deeds applauds the greater attention to mental health but calls for more long-term-oriented actions.

 

COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: On January 11, the 12th extension of the U.S. public health state of emergency on COVID-19 was announced in response to rising rates of variant XBB.1.5 and the perceived economic need to continue COVID relief programs across the country, including Virginia. We will continue to advocate for telehealth permanence and other pandemic-related issues that improve access and care of clients.

These are highlights of our advocacy agenda. I hope all Virginia social workers also will join our efforts to increase affordable housing, advance racial justice and anti-discrimination laws, and fight for social justice priorities that affect our clients.

Advocacy is social work, so please stay abreast of our progress through our emailed action alerts and our newsletter, social media, and website.

How can I advocate on social justice and professional practice issues in Virginia?

 

  1. Write, call, or visit (in non-COVID-19 times) your legislator. We encourage you to use NASW and chapter resources and research as background in formulating your personal opinion, but please know that no one is authorized to speak publicly for the chapter except the executive director and president, unless you have Virginia Chapter-specific talking points about a certain bill and a call to action. You should be clear in your communications that you are speaking as an individual Virginia social worker. Find your legislator here.

  2. Follow NASW Virginia Chapter on Facebook for policy statement updates and more advocacy news (@NASWVA). Use your social media to share NASWVA legislative alerts and updates!

  3. Read your monthly NASW Virginia newsletter to stay up to date on calls to action and advocacy issue updates—members-only.

  4. Invite social work colleagues to join NASW so they can add their voices to Virginia advocacy efforts. The more social workers who call, write, and visit, the more legislators must listen and feel prompted to act!

  5. Order the latest Social Work Speaks (12th edition releases in January/February 2021), which contains all NASW policy statements approved by the Delegate Assembly, as well as how-to information about advocating for the social work profession and your clients. All chapter policy statements and legislative/regulatory strategies must align with and/or support NASW’s national advocacy goals and current policy statements.

  6. Follow NASW on all major social media platforms to stay abreast of national advocacy opportunities and progress on the organization’s strategic priorities. You also can read Social Work Advocates and view the latest news releases.  

Advocacy Matters at the National Level

The social work profession was founded in social change. Throughout the profession’s history, social workers have sought to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources and opportunities that allow them to meet their basic needs. NASW upholds this challenge by advocating for the association to members of Congress and regulatory agencies that so often hold the authority to influence policy. 

NASW has developed a policy agenda, which asserts the association’s advocacy priorities for the legislative cycle. NASW’s policy agenda is consistent with the NASW policies in Social Work Speaks, which is developed by members of the association at Delegate Assembly.

The national website has many resources available under the Advocacy tab. Here are some quick links:

  • Want to know what the key Policy Issues are for NASW this year? Learn more here
     

  1. Read these Advocacy Tips.

  2. Sign up to get Legislative Alerts.

  3. Read blog entries related to advocacy.

  4. Read Advancing the American Agenda: How the Social Work Profession Will Help.

  5. Get the latest Washington Update.

  6. Check out a podcast from NASW's Social Work Talks: Episode 9 - Social Workers and Advocacy.

  7. Increasing voter participation is a social work issue. View our our webinar series on protecting voter rights, mobilizing voters, and how social workers can be social and political activists.

  8. Follow current legislation in Congress, and see how your representatives voted.

  9. View Comments and Statements signed-on by NASW to promote our public policy goals.

  10. Get involved with NASW's Political Action Committee, Political Action for Candidate Election (PACE).

  11. See which members of Congress are Social Workers!

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