This year’s Virginia General Assembly session has been quite active, with vigorous battles being waged over reproductive rights, free speech, immigrants’ rights, equality, the right to vote, police practices, criminal justice reform, and more.
A complete report on what fights we won and lost will be included in our post-session report. For now, we want to update you on the highlights of what measures are still before the Legislature as those bills crossed over from one house to the other at midnight on Tuesday.
Restoration of voting rights – Senate Joint Resolution 223 is constitutionalized voter suppression disguised as reform. The proposal keeps in place the permanent disenfranchisement of Virginians convicted of a felony, and even worse than the status quo, seeks to roll-back the reforms of the past three Governors’ Administrations by placing permanent barriers in front of the right to vote. Voting is a right, not a privilege to be revoked or bestowed at government whim or that can be conditioned on the ability to pay a modern-day poll tax. The ACLU of Virginia strongly supported SJ 319 which would have amended Virginia’s Constitution to include an affirmative right to vote for all qualified voters and repeal the felony disenfranchisement provision. SJR 223 is a step backward from where we are now in achieving that goal, so we oppose it.
Criminal Justice Reform
Felony larceny threshold – We have worked for years to enact an increase in the threshold for felony larceny in Virginia, which currently stands at $200, the lowest in the nation. Senate Bill 816 would raise it to $500, so we support it.
Removal of automatic suspension of driver’s license for marijuana possession – Currently, a person convicted of simple possession automatically loses their license for six months — impairing their ability to work, support their families and pay court fines and costs. Senate Bill 1091 would fix that, so we support it.
Defunding Planned Parenthood – House Bill 2264 is intended to force Planned Parenthood and other women’s health care providers in Virginia to choose between providing safe, legal abortion services and receiving funding they need to provide comprehensive family planning services, so we oppose it.
12-month contraceptive supply – Dispensing a 12-month supply of oral contraceptives reduces the rate of unintended pregnancy and abortion, among other benefits. House Bill 2267 would allow that in Virginia, so we support it.
Sanctuary cities – House Bill 2000 and Senate Bill 1262 would make communities less safe by forcing local police to enforce federal immigration law, thus making it less likely that immigrants will report crimes to law enforcement. We support safe communities, so we oppose these bills.
Employment discrimination – Senate Bill 783 would protect local and state employees from workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status, so we support it.
Fair housing – Senate Bill 822 would add discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity to the definition of an unlawful housing practice, so we support it.