2022 Legislative Agenda

Virginia’s 2022 legislative session is underway, and LAJC’s staff are hard at work. We’ve been listening to and planning with community members and fellow advocates over months and even years, and along with our legislative patrons, we’ve assembled an ambitious list of policy priorities we’ll be championing over the next 60 days as the session unfolds.

  • Criminal Record Sealing: Criminal records deny people access to safe and stable housing, dependable employment, and mobility granted by an education. In turn, people are then left without resources to feed themselves and support their families. People can bear this stigma and lack of stability for decades, even for nonviolent and minor misdemeanors. The stigma is born unequally across populations in the commonwealth, as people of color are disproportionately arrested, charged, and convicted due to racial discrimination in policies and policing. We will seek to improve upon the ground-breaking criminal record sealing bill passed by the General Assembly in 2021 by supporting legislation to remove critical barriers to its accessibility and opening up eligibility to more Virginians. 

 

  • Due Process and Pretrial Freedom: In Virginia, people detained pretrial can sit in jail for days, and in some places a week or more, before they can challenge their detention. While they wait: jobs and housing are lost, medication and treatments are missed, children are without their parents. And when they finally appear in court, they often face a complicated system alone. The Commonwealth should ensure all people held pretrial have access to an attorney and the opportunity to argue for their freedom the first time they appear before a judge. 

 

  • Court Fines and Fees: People incarcerated across Virginia commonly accrue overwhelming and debilitating amounts of court debt and often have few prospects for sustained earnings once they are released. Thanks to legislation passed in 2021, many are attempting to avail themselves of new benefits set forth in state law to use community service or underpaid work to offset this debt—but a lack of clarity in the wording of the statute and uneven implementation efforts by state and local agencies has meant that many people eligible for this relief are being denied. We will be supporting legislation to clarify, standardize, simplify, and expand opportunities to use both community service and underpaid work hours to shrink court debt for people incarcerated in the Commonwealth. 

  • Unemployment Insurance: Workers shouldn't be on the hook financially when the system makes mistakes, especially when they’re struggling. LAJC will be working to make permanent some of the protections for workers we gained in 2021, including an overpayment waiver process to forgive no-fault debts when repayment would threaten basic necessities. We'll also be taking opportunities as they come, to continue to improve Virginia’s overall unemployment insurance system. 

Protect Patients from Crushing Medical DebtPeople who need care from state hospitals should not suffer aggressive debt collection measures that cause deterioration in the health of patients and communities. We will be supporting legislation to ensure state hospitals use accessible, fair payment plans; give patients access to information about how much patients owe and assistance available in a language they can understand; and provide access to supportive staff who can help them navigate the very complicated process of medical billing and applying for assistance. Our efforts will also seek to ensure state hospitals never sell medical debt to predatory debt buyers or further impoverish patients through the use of wage garnishments or liens on a primary residence or vehicle.  

Fully Fund Our Public K-12 SchoolsLawmakers will have more than $10 billion dollars in general funds available to them to finally move Virginia out of the bottom tier for state pre-K-12 funding. There will also be profound changes in terms of legislative leadership and proposed bills. As always, the Fund Our Schools coalition will prioritize evidence-based policy solutions to improve outcomes and create conditions for all students and staff to thrive, to include codifying and fully funding the current Virginia Standards of Quality and removing the arbitrary “cap” on school support personnel currently enshrined in the Virginia budget. Likewise, our coalition will stand against cuts or redirection of K-12 public school funding and initiatives shown to hurt student outcomes. 

  • Partner with Virginia Poverty Law Center on Tenant Protection & Access to Housing Legislation: Too often, tenants living in unsafe or unhealthy conditions lack the means to enforce their rights, or do not currently have sufficient legal rights to protect themselves and stay safely and stably housed. We will work in partnership with the Virginia Poverty Law Center on legislation to shore up several of these gaps, including bills to: 
    • Enable courts to waive appeal bonds for indigent tenants in nonpayment of rent cases to provide tenants with the same access to appeals provided to all others 

    • Allow tenants to raise their unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions as a defense to allegations of nonpayment of rent 

    • Enable cities, counties and towns to file suit against landlords who are not compliant with the health and safety standards of the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act 

    • Make permanent the ability for tenants to pay rent up to 14 days before an eviction case can be filed against them in court 

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