Our 2018 VA Legislative Priorities

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Dear Friends of LAJC, 
  
The 2018 Virginia legislative session is underway! Session began Wednesday, January 10th, as the legislature worked to organize itself amidst many new faces and a new building: this year—and for at least three more sessions until a new building is completed—the General Assembly will complete much of its committee work and have legislative offices in the Pocahontas Building, located at 900 E. Main St. in Richmond. 
  
Legislators have already filed more than 2400 bills & resolutions so far for this 60-day session, and more are coming. LAJC staff will be working to educate policymakers and support our partners on a variety of issues, but our primary priorities for this session:  
   
Educate Every Child 
SB 170 (Stanley, McClellan) / HB 296 (D. Bell, Bourne): Once again, we’ll be working hard to roll back harmful school suspension and expulsion laws. This year we’ll be focusing on eliminating suspension and expulsion for students in Pre-K to 3rd grade. Read more on the data and policy behind our recommendation in our Suspended Progress 2017 report released last October
  
SB 476 (Reeves): In an effort to limit unnecessary and harmful contact between students and law enforcement, we are supporting this bill to give schools discretion in whether to refer students to law enforcement for misdemeanors and status offenses. Currently, schools have no choice and are mandated to refer nearly all offenses. 
  
Budget Amendments: LAJC will be supporting several budget amendments to make sure our schools are adequately funded and focused on improving school climate and reducing suspension and expulsion. These amendments include: additional funding for alternatives to suspension and expulsion; increasing targeted “At-risk Add-on” funding for economically disadvantaged students; and lifting the artificial cap on schools’ ability to fund support staff such as social workers, psychologists, nurses, and maintenance staff. 
   
Juvenile Justice: We will be working to protect investments in home- and community-based alternatives to incarceration for youth and making sure Virginia juvenile justice policies don’t create an open door to the adult prison system. 
  
Protect Civil Rights and Decriminalize Poverty
SB 181
 (Stanley)One in six drivers in Virginia has their license suspended for unpaid court fines and fees—an unfair, automatic process that keeps many people in a cycle of debt, unemployment, criminal charges, and even jail when they must drive to meet their basic needs: work, healthcare appointments, the grocery store, and more. SB181 would repeal this license suspension statute, which is not only ineffective at collecting fines and fees, but also props up a debtors’ prison model in the Commonwealth. 
  
LAJC will also be weighing in on any criminal justice efforts that affect low-income communities of color, who most often bear the weight of policies that impede access to justice and expand/perpetuate mass incarceration and its consequences. Among those proposals, we will be supporting a broad increase to the felony larceny threshold and positive reform to the discovery process in Virginia.

Support Immigrant Communities
LAJC will be working in partnership with VACOLAO to ensure that immigrant communities have equal treatment, equal opportunities, and equal representation in the Commonwealth. Priorities for this session include: driver’s license/permit access for all immigrant Virginians; in-state tuition access for immigrant Virginia students regardless of legal status, and resolution efforts to condemn hate and celebrate diversity.  
   
Improve Health Care Access
LAJC unequivocally supports expanding Medicaid to ensure health care coverage access for the 400,000 Virginians who are cut off from being able to access critical basic care. We are members of the Healthcare for All Virginians coalition, and stand in support with the coalition’s work.
  
To get involved with our legislative advocacy, please contact LAJC Attorney and Policy Coordinator Amy Woolard at amy@justice4all.org
  
You can also sign up for email alerts on our website here (we will be sending more session updates like this one), and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We will be sharing advocacy materials, updates, blog posts, and calls to action as the session progresses!