A Transformative Session – Advocating for Change

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In the midst of a crisis, it can be hard to talk about anything else, but we wanted to take a minute and share with you some truly transformational outcomes from our advocacy efforts at the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session that ended on March 12. Your support helped make all of this possible.
  
This year we worked with legislators to introduce over 30 bills and budget amendments and served in leading roles with coalition partners on six others. LAJC also engaged on over a dozen other bills related to our priorities, supporting organizations and legislators on their agendas. The results are a significant step forward in our efforts to the dismantle systems that perpetuate poverty in Virginia.     
 
Here are some highlights: 
 
   
Challenging Court Debt, Pretrial Detention, and the Criminalization of Poverty
  
 
WIN – The legislature voted to repeal the unconstitutional “Habitual Drunkard” statute that had primarily targeted people experiencing homeless and struggling with alcohol, criminalizing them because of their illness.   
 
WINS – After a multi-year LAJC campaign that paired litigation and legislative advocacy, Virginia will permanently end the suspension of driver’s licenses due to unpaid court debt. LAJC also led a successful effort on a second bill that repeals the 10-day mandatory minimum sentence given to drivers for a third or subsequent conviction of driving with a suspended license.  
 

PROGRESS – Our bills addressing pretrial detention did not pass as written, but we did win compromise legislation allowing magistrates to override a presumption of mandatory detention without having to seek approval from the Commonwealth’s Attorney. The bill seeking data collection and transparency in our pretrial process also did not pass, but the final budget contains language to set up a plan to create a pilot data collection tool.

 
 
Immigrant Virginians: Protecting Rights, Health and Safety, Education
  
 
WIN – The legislature passed the bills to permit in-state tuition for any student who attended at least two years of high school in Virginia and graduates from high school in Virginia or attains a GED in the Commonwealth, regardless of immigration status.  
 
WIN + MORE WORK TO DO – The years long efforts to make it legal for immigrants to drive in Virginia has passed and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. The law creates Driver’s Privilege Cards as opposed to our original demand of Virginia driver’s licenses for all. The coalition plans to continue the fight continues full drivers’ licenses and for increased privacy protections for those enrolled.   
 
WIN + MORE WORK TO DO – The bills to end the mandate that local and state law-enforcement report immigration statuses to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did pass, though it was amended from our original recommendation. Localities will no longer be required to report on those arrested on misdemeanor charges, though felony charge reporting is still the law.     
 
MORE WORK TO DO – Minimum wage reform bills have passed this session and while we applaud the raising of the wage for workers across the state, we are extremely disappointed that farmworkers were once again left out of these important bills. Also left unfinished, with the bills being continued to the 2021 session, were our efforts to gain new protections for outdoor workers—including migrant farmworkers—to ensure better health and safety conditions for these positions.   
   
 
 
Education Equity and Youth Justice Reform
  
 
WIN – The House and Senate passed bills that will ensure that all students in Virginia, whether in school, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event, cannot be criminalized for “disorderly conduct.”     
 
WINS – All four bills addressing school policing have passed. One will open up data to the public on School Resource Officers’ (SRO) interactions with students, one increases and improves training for SROs, another increases how frequently agreements between schools and security agencies are reviewed, and the final makes it discretionary whether school administrators report a range of misdemeanors and status offenses to law enforcement.  
   
WINS – A bill to assure that school dress codes include anti-discrimination protections based on race and ethnicity, and another bill that extends educational stability protections to students in foster care up to age 22—helping those who age out of care at age 18 but are still pursuing their high school education—have both passed.    
 
PROGRESS – The legislation we helped champion that would have mandated Virginia fund our public K-12 educational system to match the recommendations made by the Board of Education’s Standards of Quality did not survive this session, though some aspects of our bills were included in the budget (though not always to the levels we had hoped), including an increase in the number of school counselors and ESL teachers, more funds for students from low-income families, and a 2% pay increase for teachers & certain designated staff with an additional 2% the following year.    
 
WINS – We worked with the administration and legislators to win three important bills to stem the flow of youth into deeper incarceration: one provides eligibility for parole to any youth convicted as an adult who has served at least 20 years of incarceration (and will be applied retroactively); one allows judges to ignore mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for youth; and a third eliminates both automatic and prosecutorial transfer of 14- and 15-year-old youth to adult court.  
  
 
 
Improving Housing Stability and Tenants’ Rights
   
 
WIN – The House and Senate passed a bill to include the city of Charlottesville in a statute that provides certain localities in the Commonwealth with broad powers to design innovative affordable housing solutions.   
 

WIN – LAJC worked alongside Virginia Poverty Law Center advocates to help secure passage of critical legislation to ensure residents have 12 months’ notice of any intent to sell or demolish the public housing where they reside.  

  
These successes are the result of years of advocacy and none would have been possible without your support and without the tremendous efforts made by community members, partner organizations, and legislators from across the Commonwealth who championed—and continue to support—our work.
   
 
Of course, there is still much more to do, and we will be ready for next year’s session to continue the fight for more justice and less poverty. 
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