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Coalition Advances Regulatory Ban on Prone Restraints in Va. Schools

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Rachael Deane
Legal Director, JustChildren Program, Legal Aid Justice Center
804-873-0783 | rachael@justice4all.org

LAJC Applauds Virginia Board of Education Ban on Prone Restraints in Schools

Richmond, Virginia (July 26, 2019) – The Legal Aid Justice Center applauds the Virginia Board of Education’s vote to ban prone (face-down) restraint, a life-threatening practice that has no place in our schools. The ban is part of a broader set of regulations governing the use of seclusion and restraint in Virginia’s public schools, which will now head to the Governor for final approval.

“Too many children have been subjected to fear and trauma caused by prone restraints; some have been injured or killed,” said Rachael Deane, Legal Director of LAJC’s JustChildren Program. “We are pleased the Board has recognized the dangerousness of these restraints and urge the Governor to sign the regulations so that our schools will be on notice that these restraints are dangerous, unnecessary, and unlawful.”

The Board’s vote was a change to its previous position that an explicit ban was not necessary to comply with federal guidelines called the Fifteen Principles, which state, in part, that “prone (i.e., lying face down) restraints or other restraints that restrict breathing should never be used because they can cause serious injury or death.” Hundreds of parents and advocates wrote letters and public comments throughout the spring to urge the Board to include an explicit ban on prone restraint in the regulations. In February, the General Assembly passed legislation, subsequently signed into law by Gov. Northam, requiring the Board to identify and prohibit methods of seclusion and restraint that pose “a significant danger to students.” Testimony on the bill by parents, advocates, and a bipartisan group of legislators made clear that prone restraints posed exactly such a danger. In March, dozens of parents testified about the dangerousness of prone restraint at a public hearing on the proposed regulations, many of them sharing personal stories of the injury, pain, and trauma caused to their children by restraint and seclusion in schools. Advocates including these parents have sought this critical reform at each stage of the regulatory process, and now is the time for Governor Northam to validate the evidence and lived experiences of children and families driving these reforms by signing the regulations into law.

Schools have disproportionately used restraint and seclusion against students with disabilities and students of color, and recent news stories across Virginia have highlighted disturbing reporting discrepancies about the use of the practices. The regulations passed by the Board yesterday also include robust parental notification and data reporting requirements, though more work remains to be done to ensure that all forms of seclusion and restraint are completely banned in Virginia.

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You can download a PDF of this press release here.

Virginia Schools Need Support Staff, Not More Police

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Virginia Schools Need Investment in Support Staff—Not More School Resource Officers

Yesterday, Governor Northam announced over $3.47 million in School Resource Officer (SRO) incentive grants to 53 localities across the Commonwealth. The funding will allow school divisions to add more SROs to Virginia’s K-12 public schools, increasing the number of SROs in Virginia by 10 percent, according to the press release. To create safer schools where all children can learn and thrive, Virginia must divest from placing law enforcement inside schools and make bold new investments in school support staff and trauma-informed and restorative practices.

School Policing Is A Racial Justice Issue

African-American students are disproportionately swept into the criminal justice system for incidents that take place at school. A 2017 Virginia Tech study uncovered significant racial disparities in referrals to law enforcement for school-based offenses: African-American students accounted for roughly 23 percent of the student population in Virginia but nearly 50 percent of referrals to the juvenile justice system. Those disparities are heightened inside school buildings and persist throughout Virginia’s law enforcement and juvenile court process. A single report of a student to law enforcement, even if it does not lead to a juvenile court intake, can have devastating and ongoing consequences for a student: stigmatization by school staff and peers, erosion of trust in school staff, susceptibility to more police encounters, and loss of interest in school.

As outlined in an extensive report from The Advancement Project, school policing has roots in efforts to quash youth support for the Civil Rights movement, and African-American students report feeling less safe with police in schools.

Our Schools Don’t Need More SROs

According to Virginia’s 2017 Statewide School Safety Audit Survey, 87 percent of high schools and 85 percent of middle schools have either a full-time or part-time SRO. In recent years, in headline after headline, we have heard about school police officers responding with force against students with disabilities, using chemical restraints like pepper spray against middle school students, threatening or intimidating students, and harboring ties to white supremacist groups. Through data collection, we see vague, subjective behavioral “offenses” like disorderly conduct charges decrease in the community, yet substantially increase in our schools. Only this past General Assembly session did lawmakers mandate that all SROs receive training specific to their duties—a law that will not even go into effect in full until July 2020.    

Both the data and historically overpoliced communities themselves tell us clearly: rather than providing for the safety of students, a school law enforcement presence merely shuttles more students—and disproportionately more African-American students—into court for school discipline matters that should be handled by school personnel.

Meanwhile, Virginia understaffs positions critical to student support—positions that should be the first line of support for students who instead are garnering charges—and student caseloads are staggering. School counselors had an average caseload of 385 students in 2016, well above the recommended standard of 250 students. In 2015, school social workers had an average caseload of 1,600 students; the national recommendation was 1,000.

Virginia Must Fix Its School Funding Crisis

SROs are law enforcement officers, not student support personnel. Rather than prioritizing SROs, the Commonwealth must first fulfill its state constitutional duty to invest in high-quality, twenty-first century schools with adequate student support staff. But given the opportunity, the administration has neglected to propose, and the General Assembly has declined, over and over, to fully fund the required staffing positions to achieve high-quality schools for all students. Despite broad support for a new law, effective July 1, to require school divisions to lower counselor-to-student ratios, the state’s FY20 budget doesn’t fully fund the new caseload requirements—leaving local school divisions with an unfunded mandate. This shortfall also exists despite recommendations from the Virginia Board of Education to lift the state budget’s arbitrary “support position cap”—which limits funding for school support positions, including central office positions, attendance officers, school social workers, and maintenance personnel.

To truly create supportive learning enforcements for our students—Virginia must fully fund our schools.

 

 

 

6 Things To Know About Driver’s License Suspensions

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UPDATED

6 Things To Know Right Now about the recent Virginia budget amendment

to temporarily halt driver’s license suspensions for unpaid court debt:

 

  • 1. The budget amendment should lift current driver’s license suspensions for unpaid or delinquent court debt, and will prevent future such suspensions beginning July 1, 2019 and lasting until June 30, 2020. (We don’t yet know what the policy will be after the budget amendment expires.)
    • According to the DMV, if your license is suspended solely for unpaid court debt AND it is not expired AND you still have it in your possession, your driver’s license will automatically become valid (and reinstatement fee will be waived) on July 1, 2019, and you will not have to do anything.
    • If your license is suspended solely for unpaid court debt and it IS expired or otherwise needs to be updated (for example, you lost it or you need to update your “proof of legal presence”), your suspension will be lifted and reinstatement fee waived BUT you will likely need to contact the DMV to renew your license and will likely be charged renewal or other administrative fees, which will vary by individual.
    • If your license is suspended for unpaid court debt AND some other reason, the DMV says it will lift the court debt suspension BUT you will still need to serve out the other suspension(s) and fulfill any court or DMV obligations related to those suspensions before your license can become valid. We do not yet know how DMV will implement this.
    • If your Virginia driver’s license was suspended for court debt and you now live in another state, the Virginia DMV says this suspension “will no longer be visible” to other states, but we do not yet know what this means in practice.
    • The DMV says they will send a letter to individuals in Virginia listing any additional actions, if any, they will need to take to get a valid license (renewal applications, fees, etc.).

2. Though it lifts current court debt-related driver’s license suspensions and prevents future such suspensions through June 30, 2020, the budget amendment does not cancel debt owed.

You will still be required to pay your court debt, & the court could still pursue collections against you with mechanisms that include: wage garnishment, tax intercept, debt collector intervention, and, possibly, issuing a kind of warrant called a “show cause” that will require you to appear in court to answer for the debt, which could result in some jail time.

In some cases, payment of your court debt may be a part of probation requirements or to maintain a suspended jail sentence term—please consult your attorney in these matters for advice.

3. The budget amendment only lifts/prevents license suspensions that are solely due to unpaid court fines & fees.
This does not include, for example, license suspensions given for unpaid child support. It does not include suspensions directly resulting from convictions for reckless driving, DUI, or simple possession—though it would include a license suspension based solely on any unpaid fines & fees tied to those convictions.

4. It’s possible to have more than one kind of driver’s license suspension at the same time. If you have a license suspension for an offense like a DUI, reckless driving, etc., AND a license suspension for unpaid court fines and fees, the budget amendment should still cause the unpaid fines/fees suspension to be lifted. This means, however, that the other suspension(s) will still be in effect. Again, the best way to keep track of this is to obtain your DMV compliance report on or before July 1 of this year, or as soon as you can after that.

5. The Virginia state budget that contains this budget language goes into effect July 1, 2019, and the DMV says eligible licenses will automatically become valid (unless there are administrative requirements or other suspensions), but our advice: make sure your license is valid before you drive. This law will not come into effect until July 1, 2019, so none of this applies until then!

    • If you drive, please drive with caution—our best advice is to seek your DMV compliance report until it shows your suspension has been lifted. Then, you may want to carry the compliance report with you if you drive, just as a precaution.
    • Even if your suspension is lifted, your license might not be VALID, and if you drive, you could be charged with “Driving Without An Operator’s License” (DWOL) until you fulfill the necessary requirements. The new law does not prevent consequences for DWOL or DWLS (Driving With License Suspended) charges—if your license is not valid or you are still serving another suspension or you drive from now until July 1, 2019, while under a court-debt suspension, you can still be subject to these charges.

6. If your driver’s license was suspended solely for unpaid court debt, you should not be charged the $145+ license reinstatement fee by the DMV for that reinstatement. If you have another type of license suspension, or if you need to obtain a new driver’s license or renew an expired one, the DMV may charge you fees related to either reinstating your license once you’ve served your other suspension, or fees associated with renewing or first obtaining a license. If your only license suspension is for unpaid court fines and fees, however, you should not be charged a fee related to the suspension, but could face fees for renewal, replacement, etc.

If you have questions about your driver’s license suspension, please contact the DMV. Their website has some information, as well as a contact email form specific to these cases, and other phone numbers and ways to reach them: www.DMVnow.com

Access a share-able PDF of this FAQ here. 

For more information about our Legal Aid Justice Center work on these issues, please visit our website at http://www.justice4all.org/drive.

 

 

VA AG Undermines License Suspension Relief Efforts

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April 24, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director, 434-529-1810, angela@justice4all.org

 

VIRGINIA OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDERMINES CRITICAL OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSION RELIEF PERMANENT

Charlottesville, VA—Yesterday, the Attorney General and Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner filed a motion to delay or prematurely end the litigation in Stinnie v. Holcomb, a lawsuit filed in 2016 by the Legal Aid Justice Center and McGuireWoods LLP challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statutes automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines. The Attorney General took this action despite knowing the license suspension law—which a court has said is likely unconstitutional—is still within the Virginia Code and will resume as the law of the land next year without a permanent solution, notwithstanding the historic budget amendment that temporarily eases the pain of nearly one million Virginians as of July 1, 2019.

Plaintiffs have always sought a permanent end to automatic license suspension, knowing the only way to achieve that is for the Commonwealth to declare this law unconstitutional and unenforceable, and to assure that those already subject to the law are restored from its harms. The passage of the budget amendment by the 2019 General Assembly does not produce this outcome and thus does not moot the Stinnie case. Justice demands that suffering families shouldn’t have to wait another year or more for a chance that relief might finally be delivered by the legislature when they have the opportunity right now to receive it from the court.

“The actions of the Commissioner and Attorney General are deeply disappointing. They would rather hold people hostage to delay and dithering, instead of letting long-suffering Virginians have their day in court,” said Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director for the Legal Aid Justice Center. “The Attorney General seeks to play legislative roulette with nearly one million families, abdicating his responsibility to stop unconstitutional practices within the Commonwealth, in the chance that the General Assembly does the right thing to make the relief permanent. If the litigation is dismissed and the General Assembly fails to pass a clean repeal bill next year, nearly one million Virginians will be plunged back into the court debt trap on July 1, 2020.”

“The automatic license suspension law is still in the books. It still affects and strikes fear in nearly one million Virginians. The General Assembly did a great thing with the Governor’s budget amendment, but it failed twice to rid the Commonwealth once and for all of this unconstitutional practice. We look forward to our day in court to push for a positive outcome to this civil rights issue.” said Jonathan Blank, partner at McGuireWoods and lead counsel in the case. “It’s time to let justice take its course.”

The Legal Aid Justice Center calls on the Commonwealth to uphold its duty under the U.S. Constitution not to enforce blatantly unconstitutional laws, or to let the case proceed to trial in August and allow the court to rule.

Background:

Stinnie v. Holcomb is a class action lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and McGuireWoods LLP, challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of nearly one million Virginia drivers who cannot afford to pay court costs and fines. The case was originally dismissed at the Circuit Court, but it was revived by the Fourth Circuit this summer when the appeals court allowed plaintiffs to amend their complaint. When LAJC filed the amended complaint, they also asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction, which would have the effect of ordering the DMV Commissioner to stop suspending driver’s licenses for non-payment of court debt while the lawsuit is pending.  On November 15th, Judge Moon took evidence and heard arguments for and against the preliminary injunction.  On December 21, Judge Moon granted the preliminary injunction finding the driver’s license suspension statute likely unconstitutional and ordering the DMV Commissioner to reinstate Plaintiffs’ licenses while litigation proceeds. The Court also rejected the Commissioner’s arguments that the federal court lacked jurisdiction. The case is set for trial in August 2019.

To download a copy of this release, click here.

To read more about the lawsuit, or to download the briefs, go to http://www.justice4all.org/drive

About the Legal Aid Justice Center

The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, workers’ rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide. 

Educate Every Child: A 2019 Legislative Snapshot

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Educate Every Child: A Snapshot of the 2019 Legislative Session

 

Our JustChildren program’s Educate Every Child campaign is one of our longest, most ambitious efforts; it seeks to fulfill the promise of our state Constitution to ensure a free, high-quality, public education to all children in the Commonwealth. Our policy work focuses on improving the critical attributes of such a system: equity, access, support, quality, opportunity, and sustainability, all of which create more justice for our clients and their families. We also specifically seek to redress the racial inequities that persist in our schools and to dismantle the effects of the racist laws and policies upon which our public K-12 education system was historically built.

During the 2019 General Assembly session, we reached some significant milestones in our ongoing work to increase support staff and decrease criminalization of students in Virginia’s public schools. As of the close of the regular session, we successfully championed the following:

Reducing School Counselor Caseloads

  • Partnering with The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we helped secure an initial $12 million to seed a phase-in plan to reduce school counselor caseloads to the nationally recognized best practice of one counselor per 250 students (1:250), across school levels. We continue to advocate for a Governor’s budget amendment for the 2019 Reconvened Session to fully fund the Year One plan at $36 million, and will further advocate for the full three-year plan (or better) in the coming biennial budget for the 2020 session.

Increased Targeted Funding for Low-Income Students

Mandatory Training for School Resource Officers

  • As part of our yearlong effort to direct reinvigorated focus on “school safety” towards prevention and positive supports to students, we successfully advanced bills and policy initiatives through the House Select Committee on School Safety, the Governor’s School Safety workgroup within the Children’s Cabinet, and the Virginia Commission on Youth to require all School Resource Officers (SROs) to be trained to meet minimum certification and re-certification standards established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. We’ll continue working with DCJS to ensure those standards include training in topics like working with students with disabilities, cultural competency, the mental health needs of students, child and adolescent development, and mediation and de-escalation skills. We were also able to limit additional funding for SROs to existing positions—no small feat in an era when more law enforcement is a popular response to school safety concerns.

Mandatory MOUs for Cops in Schools

  • Within that same “school safety” work with the relevant committees, we successfully advanced a legislative policy initiative to require Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between local school divisions and local law enforcement whenever SROs are placed in schools, in an effort to define and refine the scope of police duties and actions in the school environment. SROs should not be responsible for or reacting to school discipline matters. These bills emerged from the House Select Committee on School Safety through our yearlong effort to shape that committee’s focus and agenda.

Increased Transparency & Accountability in Disciplinary Alternative Education

While successes like the ones listed above might seem to become fully assembled over the course of one legislative session, the behind-the-scenes story unfolds over a much longer timeline. Our advocacy to improve support staff in schools, for example, measures itself in decades.

Most recently, last year during the 2018 legislative session, in partnership with Sen. Jennifer McClellan, we brought the most recent recommendations from the Virginia Board of Education to fully fund the Virginia Standards of Quality to the General Assembly, in the form of several budget amendments designed to eliminate the arbitrary decade-old cap on school support staff and assure that students had adequate access to school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses. The presentation of those amendments in committee helped once again put the General Assembly on notice that our public K-12 system is radically underfunded, and that the Commonwealth is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide high-quality education to Virginia students.

We then leveraged the awareness we raised during the 2018 session into both broad-based and targeted advocacy within the various school safety committees and workgroups over the past year, to again demand adequate school funding for K-12—especially for economically disadvantaged students, this time zeroing in on school counselors and the At-Risk Add-On funding as priority measures. Among our efforts:

  • In July 2018, we authored a letter to the House Select Committee on School Safety, the Governor and the Children’s Cabinet, and the Virginia Commission on Youth outlining detailed policy recommendations for improving school safety in Virginia schools, with proposals including: increasing school counselors, improving SRO training, and requiring MOUs when using law enforcement in schools. We secured more than 25 organizational co-signers to the letter, and many of our recommendations became a part of each of these group’s final school safety platform.
  • In August 2018, with The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we released a report, “Investing in Student Safety and Success: The Growing Importance of Effective Staffing in Virginia Schools,” which outlined the multi-faceted need for support staff in our schools.
  • In November 2018, we hosted a Legislative Listening Session for current school counselors to share their experiences and recommendations directly with legislators. The event was held at ART180, in the midst of an art installation created primarily by current or formerly incarcerated students entitled “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out.”
  • Prior to and during the 2019 legislative session, we helped several legislators and Gov. Northam’s administration to draft the successful legislation that will expand SRO training and provide for the statewide use of rigorous MOUs between schools and law enforcement. We successfully advocated for the inclusion of the Department of Criminal Justice Services model MOU as a framework with which the local agreements must align. We worked diligently on this DCJS model as it was developed in 2015-2016, based in large part on our own model school/law MOU within our 2016 report on school policing, which adheres to best practices and a student-centered, trauma-informed approach. 

The road to equity, access, support, quality, opportunity, and sustainability for Virginia’s schools is a highway, not a cul-de-sac. Even with these victories, our work will continue—into the coming legislative sessions, within administrative agencies, in conversation with the media, in collaboration with our organizational coalitions (which commonly include groups like The Commonwealth Institute For Fiscal Analysis and the Virginia School Counselors Association), and—most importantly and urgently—in partnership with affected communities. We will continue to prioritize racial equity and an anti-racist agenda in our policy advocacy and partnerships. And we will continue to use data to help tell the policy stories necessary to effect change. This post maps only two years’ worth of our commitment to demanding that Virginia fulfil its constitutional duty to assure every child receives a high-quality public education; the successes detailed here grow out of two decades of JustChildren’s efforts, and serves only as a mile-marker in our ongoing work. We’re grateful to our partners and the children, families, and communities we represent—building this path will take every one of us together.

To stay up-to-date on our Educate Every Child and school funding campaigns, please sign up for our alerts here.

 

 

New Va Laws Help Immigrant Children Seek Safety

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For Immediate Release

Contact:            Amy Woolard, (434) 529-1846, amy@justice4all.org

                        Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, (703) 720-5605, simon@justice4all.org

NEW VIRGINIA LAWS HELP IMMIGRANT CHILDREN SEEK PROTECTION FROM ABUSE, NEGLECT, AND ABANDONMENT

RICHMOND: On Friday, February 22, the Virginia General Assembly passed SB 1758 and HB 2679, identical bills that will aid immigrant children fleeing abuse, neglect, and abandonment in their home countries in seeking protection from deportation in Virginia.

Across the country, many immigrant children and DREAMers facing deportation proceedings seek a form of immigration relief called “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” (SIJS). SIJS is unique in that it requires a state court to issue a certain type of order before the child may even attempt to seek SIJS relief from the federal government. In a 2017 case called Canales v. Torres-Orellana, brought by the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Virginia Court of Appeals sharply restricted state judges’ ability to issue these orders, leaving hundreds of Virginia immigrant children without protection. Virginia became one of the most difficult states in the nation to obtain SIJS.

During this year’s General Assembly session, Legal Aid Justice Center worked closely with legislators and the Governor’s office to pass these bills, which would overturn the Canales case and restore Virginia immigrant children’s ability to apply for SIJS. The bills also address the needs of other children before the juvenile courts, easing the way for any Virginia child to seek a state court’s assistance in proving eligibility for other benefits such as adoption assistance, TANF assistance, and timely public school enrollment.

SB 1758 was introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon). HB 2679 was introduced by Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church). The bills initially took different approaches to fixing this issue, and each passed their respective chambers with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of votes. The bills were then placed into committees of conference in an attempt to gain consensus, and identical bills emerged that combined the approach of both; they garnered unanimous support in the House, and only two dissenting votes in the Senate. The bills now go to Governor Northam’s desk for his signature; once signed, they will take effect on July 1 of this year. The conference report with bill text is available at: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?191+ful+SB1758S1+pdf

“Immigrant children in Virginia can breathe a little more easily now,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program. “Our agency has represented over 150 children fleeing truly horrific situations of abuse or neglect in their home countries. Fairness dictates that they be afforded the same rights as immigrant children in any other state. Now these new DREAMers will be able to seek protection and apply to remain in the United States with green cards.”

“This excellent result could not have come about without the leadership and hard work of Senator Surovell and Delegate Simon, and the support of Governor Northam’s administration,” said Amy Woolard, Legal Aid Justice Center Attorney and Policy Coordinator. “Virginia’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts should exist to protect the best interests of all children in the Commonwealth, and these bills will now make clear that is true for immigrant children seeking safety through SIJS, as well.”

“The United States has a long history of protecting abused, neglected, and abandoned children, and the Commonwealth will continue to play its part,” said Sen. Surovell. “These bills will clarify and restore Virginia courts’ authority to make factual findings necessary to protect children fleeing abuse, neglect, and abandonment from abroad, and I appreciate the broad bipartisan support of legislators who saw this as consistent with Virginia’s longstanding values.”

“I’m so pleased we were able to pass this important legislation to give our courts the authority they need to be able help some of the most vulnerable and powerless people in our Commonwealth,” said Del. Simon. “It is so important that we not let victims of abuse, neglect, and often abandonment fall through the cracks because of a technical deficiency in our code. Those are the common sense problems we are elected to come down here and fix.”

A downloadable PDF of this statement may be accessed here.

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Legal Aid Justice Center is a statewide Virginia nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the voices of low-income communities and root out the inequities that keep people in poverty. We provide legal support to immigrant communities facing legal crises and use advocacy and impact litigation to fight back against ICE enforcement and detention abuses. More information is available at http://www.justice4all.org/.

Budget Includes Big Wins for Low-Income Virginians

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Nearly three months after the close of the 2018 General Assembly Regular Session, Governor Northam signed the 2018-2020 biennial budget bill, which most notably included the necessary framework for the Commonwealth to expand its Medicaid program in order to cover nearly 400,000 currently uninsured low-income Virginians. The Medicaid Expansion advocacy effort has spanned 5 years, three administrations, and several different iterations of the General Assembly, but one constant over that time period has been the united front of advocates–individuals and organizations across the spectrum–who continued to fight long and hard for this moment. LAJC is proud to have worked as a partner in the Healthcare for All Virginians coalition, alongside our friends at The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and the Virginia Poverty Law Center (thank you, Jill Hanken!) as we fought for the healthcare needs of our clients. 

The main provisions of the expansion will come into effect on January 1, 2019, but the state has already posted more information on the ins and outs of the new coverage categories on its CoverVa website here.

Medicaid Expansion is a huge victory, and deservedly in the spotlight as the headliner of the state’s new budget, but LAJC also advocated for many other budget reforms, many of which were realized in meaningful ways:

Children’s Mental Health:

We successfully advocated alongside our partners at Voices for Virginia’s Children to make sure that children were included in the approved proposal to invest $7 million to establish a statewide system of alternative transportation for children and adults under a Temporary Detention Order (TDO). Currently, after patients have been evaluated and found to be in need of involuntary inpatient treatment, they are transported to treatment facilities by law enforcement, which includes shackling and being placed in a police cruiser. The new funding will allow Virginia to develop treatment-focused alternative transportation options that can decriminalize what can be a traumatic experience for patients who are already experiencing trauma. LAJC has worked with several very young clients, for example (ages 7 and 9) who, because of no other options, were shackled and taken to the hospital by law enforcement. One of these children had just been removed from his family by social services and seen his own father arrested–his only other experience with police at that point. Providing options in appropriate cases can help patients, families, and even law enforcement provide appropriate, safe care while using the patient’s own therapeutic needs as a guiding principle, which follows best practices in mental health treatment.

K-12 Public Education:

The biennial budget’s largest K-12 investment went to rebenchmarking our overall spending, which the General Assembly must do on a set schedule. It’s critical to underscore that rebenchmarking in and of itself DOES NOT provide the full and necessary investments in our Standards of Quality to assure all children across the state are receiving a high-quality education. We have a long way to go, and LAJC will continue to advocate, using all of our tools, to assure our K-12 system is adequately funded. Even so, the new budget did contain several new pieces of funding for policy proposals on our legislative agenda this year:

1. We successfully advocated for a one-percent increase (to 14% from 13%) to the “At-risk Add-on” range, a funding stream that provides additional dollars to local school divisions, measured in relation to the number of economically disadvantaged students attending in the division. Increasing the high end of the range will help some of our most under-funded school divisions (several of which are in our practice areas) provide more funding to students in need. Our goal for the year, in collaboration with our partners in the Alliance for Virginia’s Students, was to raise this threshold to somewhere between 20% to 25%; while we will accept the incremental bump as a win, we will continue to push for increases in funding that prioritize areas of poverty in the Commonwealth.

2. Through advocacy with both the Governor’s office and the General Assembly, we successfully advocated for a $1 million increase in funding for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a framework that helps to reduce the use of school suspension and expulsion by focusing on prevention, improving school climate, and tailoring higher-level interventions to the specific needs and circumstances of students with more challenging behavior issues. Nearly seven years ago, LAJC led the way in advocating for the initial line-item inclusion of PBIS in the budget, and this year’s budget addition represents the largest increase in the program since its inception. And we will continue our advocacy to create and improve more alternatives to suspension and expulsion–read more about our recommendations, which include things like restorative practices and social and emotional learning, in our Suspended Progress reports.

Juvenile Justice:

We successfully defended against a proposal initially put forth by the House of Delegates to build a new 156-bed facility at the old Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center site, which would have put an exceptionally large youth prison back in a remote location that has a terrible history of unsafe, harsh youth incarceration, and placed community alternative funds in great jeopardy. The General Assembly instead approved pieces of a plan put forth by the Northam administration to build a 60-bed facility in Isle of Wight, Virginia, and lay some initial groundwork for planning a to-be-determined Central Virginia facility to replace Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center. We will continue to advocate for the decarceration of youth, and to work hard on reforming our juvenile justice system to stop the flow of young people further into the juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems. 

What’s Next:

Just as one session ends, it seems preparation for the next year’s session begins. Stay tuned for more information on LAJC’s 2019 legislative advocacy agenda over the next few months. We’ll be continuing to work on issues like reforming the court debt process, increasing education equity and education funding, improving school discipline and reducing school exclusion, protecting immigrant communities, reducing evictions, and assuring low-income Virginians are able to achieve economic security. If you’d like to become involved in our legislative and administrative advocacy, please contact LAJC Attorney and Policy Coordinator Amy Woolard at amy@justice4all.org. You can also sign up for our email alerts here.

 

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