Va. House leadership wants to sidestep social agenda to focus on jobs


House Speaker William Howell (R-Stafford) applauds during introductions in the House session at the Capitol on Jan. 10 in Richmond. (Steve Helber/AP)
January 10, 2013

House Speaker William J. Howell said the chamber’s Republican leadership is focused on jobs — not the controversial social agenda that stole the spotlight during the last legislative session.

“We’re not talking about it because ... the economy is still the most important issue by far among Virginians,” Howell (R-Stafford) told reporters Thursday. “It’s jobs I’m worried about. That’s the war on women.”

Democrats and pro-choice activists have balked at bills on abortion and contraception — including several filed by staunch pro-life advocate Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) that were filed ahead of the 2013 General Assembly, fearing a repeat of a 2012 session that inspired punchlines.

Del. Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax) said his party’s constituents were appalled by what happened in 2012. Democrats have filed bills for the current session aimed at countering Republican proposals on abortion and contraception.

“We are coming down here in response to grass-roots opposition to what happened,” Sickles said. “It’s our duty to provide an alternative in this state, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

When asked whether the Republican caucus leadership might approach Marshall about withdrawing his abortion-related proposals, Howell simply responded, “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

The speaker then hinted at a more practical approach.

“We have a system that works things through,” he said.

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