A Long Road to a Big Win

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Ending Virginia’s Driver’s License Suspension Trap

Six years ago, a Charlottesville jail superintendent brought a serious problem to the local reentry council: the jail was full of people locked up just for driving on a suspended license. What’s worse, they lost their licenses due to criminal/traffic court debt they just couldn’t pay. To tackle the problem, LAJC recruited pro bono attorneys to help people get their licenses back. It did not take long to realize that trying to help people one-by-one was not working. There were just too many people and too many barriers. 

Through public records requests, we discovered that nearly one million driver’s licenses were suspended by the state for court debt, and over 600,000 of them were suspended solely for that reason. We also discovered that black people were disproportionately hurt by both license suspension and driving while suspended.  

So, we launched our “Drive Down the Debt” campaign. We started by convincing the General Assembly to pass a law requiring courts to publish their payment plan policies. This first step allowed legislators—and the Virginia Supreme Court—to see how most courts’ often punitive one-size-fits-all payment policies failed to take financial hardship into account. Our critique led to new rules making it easier for people to get on payment plans. But we didn’t stop there. Realizing that Virginia was not alone, we published the first national report finding that 43 states suspended licenses for unpaid court debt. 

Throughout our work, we met people heroically battling against impossible odds—caught in a cycle of debt, license suspension, job loss, incarceration, and further debt: A mom of two who lost her ability to drive to her job as an in-home care aide, and with that, her primary source of income. A dad who had fewer job options, and who didn’t have time, using public transit, to hold down a second job to uplift his family.  A mom who was told she needed to appear in-person in order to get on a payment plan, even though she couldn’t drive legally. They were fighters, and they rose to the challenge as partners with us in changing the system.          

Four years ago this week—July 6, 2016—we filed Stinnie v. Holcomb, a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s court debt suspension on the grounds that it violated basic constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. In late December 2018, the court held that the law likely violated the Constitution and ordered Virginia to stop enforcing the law against our clients. Alongside the litigation, we built a legislative campaign that grew into a large bipartisan coalition. As the case progressed, our clients also brought their stories to halls of the General Assembly and this, combined with the pressure from the federal court injunction, helped motivate policymakers toward action. In April 2019, the Governor stepped up and passed a budget amendment to halt the practice in the Commonwealth, but it was only a temporary reprieve. The legislature needed to fully end the law.

Then during the 2020 legislative session, after six years of research and individual casework, five years of legislative and administrative advocacy, four years of litigation, a critical preliminary injunction, and a temporary fix through an amendment to Virginia’s budget, we arrived at full repeal of this harmful, unconstitutional law by an overwhelming vote in both chambers of the legislature. 

On July 1, 2020, quietly alongside the hundreds of other laws passed the Virginia General Assembly this last legislative session, the court debt suspension law ceased to exist. Virginians will no longer be suspended for being poor and can have a true opportunity to restore their lives from the harms that have flowed from that broken policy. We knew the journey would be long, but we are proud to have reached this anniversary and changed Virginia—and the lives of hundreds of thousands of families—for the better.

We thank all who made July 1 possible, from pro bono partners like McGuire Woods, to bold policymakers and steadfast coalition partners like the Virginia Poverty Law Center and Americans for Prosperity. But we especially thank Damian Stinnie, who let us tell his story over and over and gave his name to the litigation; Adrainne Johnson, who testified so forcefully at the preliminary injunction hearing; Brianna Morgan, who spoke about her experience and her hope for a better future; and all the other clients who sat for depositions and let lawyers for the state interrogate their finances and question the strategies they have used to survive this brutal law and provide for their families. And finally, we salute the hard work and perseverance of the hundreds of thousands of people per year who have managed to take care of themselves and their families, despite the license suspension trap.

From Eviction Crisis to Eviction Catastrophe

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Download PDF here Eviction Crisis to Catastrophe

 

New Data Predicts an Avalanche of Evictions in Virginia

 A report from the Legal Aid Justice Center examines new Census data that show low-income communities and communities of color are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain stable housing

 

Richmond, VA— The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) has released a new paper titled From Eviction Crisis to Eviction Catastrophe. Using data from the U.S. Census’s recent Household Pulse Survey that reports weekly findings across the country on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the paper zeros in on housing insecurity in Virginia to find troubling trends that may predict an avalanche of evictions in the Commonwealth.

One striking finding: Almost half of Virginians who have an income of $25,000 or less said they have slight or no chance of paying rent next month.  

While nearly all Virginians have been affected economically by the health crisis, inequities are seen in who are in the most precarious housing situations.  Black and Hispanic residents reported a significantly higher concern of making rent payments on time or at all.  

The paper calls for action to be taken by Governor Northam and elected leaders across the state as well as by the Supreme Court of Virginia to immediately halt evictions for the duration of the crisis and to take steps to protect renters.

 

Download the paper at www.justice4all.org/evictioncatastrophe

 

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The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) LAJC partners with communities and clients to achieve justice by dismantling systems that create and perpetuate poverty. By justice, we mean racial, social, and economic justice. We integrate individual representation, impact litigation, policy advocacy, and organizing strategies to identify and address root causes of poverty while mitigating acute impacts.

Statement On the Proposed Re-opening of Virginia

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Legal Aid Justice Center Statement On the Proposed Re-opening of Virginia

Governor Northam’s jaw-dropping announcement on Monday, reiterated today, that Virginia could be partially re-opening for business as early as May 15 is reckless and cruel.

A partial reopening on May 15 is reckless for the following public health reasons:

  • Virginia’s testing rate for COVID-19 is one of the worst in the country. The Commonwealth ranks 48th among states.
  • Virginia does not yet have an established system for contact tracing, a method other countries have successfully used to slow spread of the virus absent a vaccine. (We learned today that we do not even know how many people are employed in the state to do contact tracing, nevermind whether they speak Spanish or other languages.)
  • Due to asymptomatic presentation, infection rates are likely to be far higher than reported, particularly in congregate settings, such as assisted living and long-term care, group homes, adult and youth jails and prisons, and other forms of detention, some of which are not being tested at all.
  • Without a vaccine or contact tracing, we are relying solely on herd immunity, which means that 70% of people will get the virus.

A partial reopening on May 15 is cruel for the following humanitarian reasons:

  • Due to systemic racial inequities, infection and death rates are highest in Black and brown communities. In our state capital of Richmond, 15 of the 16 deaths from COVID-19 were Black residents. In Fairfax County, while only 17% of the population is Hispanic, 56% of all confirmed cases are Hispanic.
  • If the courts follow the Governor’s guidance, dockets will be swarmed by landlords clamoring to evict tenants and debt collectors seeking to garnish people’s wages and stimulus checks.
  • Imprisoned people, including youth, will be asked to endure the psychological torture of isolation, the only form of social distancing possible in jail and prisons, in an attempt to protect them as the virus rages through these facilities at even higher rates than the general population.
  • Poultry processors and farmworkers will go on working in unsafe conditions with no social distancing, sacrificing their lives just to keep the price of meat and vegetables low.
  • As non-essential businesses reopen, many low-wage workers will be presented with a Hobson’s choice: go to work, risking illness or even death, or prioritize health and safety and lose employment, which means losing unemployment and possibly health care benefits, and a risk of losing housing, utilities, and the ability to care for family.
  • With schools closed and the pandemic limiting Virginia’s already scarce supply of high-quality, affordable childcare, parents will be faced with more impossible choices and trade-offs between caring for the daily needs of their children and providing for the economic security of their families.
  • These impossible choices will often fall heaviest on Black and brown Virginians—those who provide childcare, stock the shelves of retail stores, serve meals in restaurants, and work the floors of factories.

  
Even prior to this pandemic, Virginia has been failing on every measure that really matters: Nationally, we are
ranked #43 for steps taken to protect people from losing housing, #40 for state funding per student for K-12 education, and dead last on worker-friendly labor and employment policy.

But yet the Commonwealth was ranked #1 for business in 2019.

And we fear that is the measure that matters most to policymakers.


We stand in solidarity with community leaders who have implored Governor Northam to resist corporate pressure to jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of low-wage workers, confined populations, and communities of color. Until we can reliably deliver basic public health protections and care—especially to marginalized communities—and take aggressive steps to minimize the cruel and inequitable effects of the pandemic, Virginia must stay closed for business. There is no acceptable margin of lives lost or families devastated that justifies prioritizing economic pressures over the health and safety of people, especially when Black and brown Virginians would bear the brunt of this deadly calculation.
  


Email and Tweet at Governor Northam


 

I was not sentenced to death.

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Listen to, and read, a statement from Cynthia Scott who is currently incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia. Ms. Scott, one of the five plaintiffs in our lawsuit addressing the insufficient medical care in the facility in 2012, is now living in fear for her life due to what would likely happen when the coronavirus spreads through the site.  

Click see more stories and ways to take action (and submit the story of a loved one)

Click below to listen to the statement read by her daughter. 
   

“My name is Cynthia Scott.  I am a 50 year old veteran who has been incarcerated for 21 years now.  I have kidney disease, asthma, and sarcoidosis, a condition that affects my lungs.  I have to take immunosuppressant medicine so I basically have no immune system.  I learned last week that I am in kidney failure and will have to start dialysis soon.

I live in a wing with 27 other women.  Most women have to share a cell, and we all have to share the same showers and living space.  Many of these women are older and have health problems like diabetes and heart conditions.  It is impossible for us to keep six feet away from each other. 

I know that my medical problems mean that I have a high risk of dying from the coronavirus if I catch it.  I am scared to death.  I can’t sleep and am losing weight.  I am afraid that even if women start to get sick here, they will not tell people about their symptoms because they are afraid of being isolated and left alone without good medical care.  Then the sickness will spread faster.

I have been here for 21 years and have never needed medication for mental health.  But now I am so terrified about what is coming that the prison has put me on antidepressants.

I was not sentenced to death, and I don’t want to die here.  But I am afraid I will when the coronavirus comes.”

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. 

Statement on Coronavirus Pandemic

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All Legal Aid Justice Center offices are currently closed to walk-in visitors. If you need assistance please contact us via phone or email. Click here for contact information. 


   

STATEMENT FROM THE LEGAL AID JUSTICE CENTER ON PROTECTING OUR COMMUNITIES DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC 
 
In light of current actions taking place in Virginia due to the coronavirus pandemic, we must ensure that low-income residents of our Commonwealth do not shoulder increased risk, bear extra burdens, experience discrimination, or get left out of supportive measures.  
 
Without a state mandate for paid sick leave, many low-income residents cannot afford to take time off work to self-isolate or care for others without risking losing their homes to eviction or seeing their utilities shut off.  More than 500,000 children statewide rely on free or reduced-price school meals to maintain nutrition, and families may be unable to access the technology needed to access virtual instruction. Adults and youth held in Virginia’s prisons, jails, and detention centers are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease and deserve to be protected with adequate sanitation and medical care or, if possible, be released. Immigrant and undocumented community members need equal access to any relief programs and should not be forced to avoid seeking medical treatment due to their status and fear of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  This is just the beginning of a long list of issues that our clients and communities face every day, but with the rise of this statewide emergency, the need for immediate action is even more acute.  
 
State and local officials should move swiftly to implement measures to protect all Virginians, with special care to ensure that every person in the Commonwealth gets the message and that no one, regardless of income, location, or immigration status, is left out. They must work with advocacy organizations and community groups who are on the ground identifying the needs of Virginians facing huge and possibly life-threatening obstacles in this time of crisis 
 
While all Legal Aid Justice Center offices may be closed to walk-in traffic for the time being (though we can be reached by phone and email) our lawyers, organizers, and advocates are actively working with partners across the state to help protect our communities.   
 

Read our list of actions that must be taken to protect and support our communities and clients

Info & Legal Help – RRHA Eviction Freeze

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Info & Legal Rights:
RRHA REPAYMENT AGREEMENT
Option During Eviction Freeze until May 1

(download PDF version here)     

Eviction Freeze

 

  • The eviction freeze ends May 1, 2020
  • When the freeze ends, any outstanding balances owed are subject to legal proceedings by
  • RRHA.
  • There is no freeze on evictions due to lease violations that are unrelated to money
  • RRHA will not charge late penalties until March 1, 2020
        

REPAYMENT AGREEMENTS

  • RRHA is now offering a one-time “no questions asked” repayment plan. You MUST sign-up before May 1, 2020.
      
  • Monthly payments will be based on 10% of the family’s monthly adjusted income at the time of entering into the agreement. Monthly payments must be paid in addition to monthly rent.
      
  • No down payment will be required for this one-time repayment agreement
      
  • If a family’s monthly adjusted income decreases, RRHA will decrease the monthly repayment amount. RRHA will not increase the monthly repayment amount.
      
  • For families on zero-income, RRHA will require a minimum repayment of $10.
      
  • If a tenant misses one monthly payment under the new repayment plan, only the amount of that one missed payment will be due. RRHA may seek legal enforcement action against any missed repayment payments. 
      
  • If more than four (4) payments of the repayment agreement are missed during any 12- month period, then twenty-five percent (25%) of the remaining repayment balance will become immediately due.
      
  • Entering into a repayment agreement will put a tenant in “good standing” for purposes of balances owed to RRHA. That means it will not count against the tenant in any screening for eligibility to an RRHA housing program or voucher program.
      
  • RRHA’s Office Hours for repayment agreements:
    • Wednesday and Friday during normal business hours until the freeze ends.
    • SPECIAL EVENING HOURS – Every other Monday and each Wednesday, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
    • SATURDAY HOURS – March 14 and April 11 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
    • Any resident who cannot visit the management office at any of those dates and times should call to schedule an appointment with their property manager.

LEGAL ADVICE

  • RRHA’s repayment agreement is a binding contract. Please consult with an attorney before signing if you have questions. Legal Aid Justice Center (804-643-1086) may be able to provide free legal services.
      
  • If you disagree with the balanced owed, you should file a grievance with RRHA. A grievance involves first having an informal conference with RRHA staff, and if you disagree with the outcome of the informal conference, you can appeal the decision to a formal hearing officer.
      
  • Tenants still need to pay excess utility costs under the repayment agreement in order to avoid legal action, however, if you have specific concerns with your utilities being too high, you should file a grievance. You may also be eligible for an exemption to pay utilities if you have health needs that require you to use extra electricity, but you must request this exemption and should bring medical evidence of the health need to RRHA.
      
  • RRHA may issue a notice of termination on missed repayment amounts or rent or both. A resident can file a grievance if they disagree with the amount on the notice.
      
  • If a resident is paying minimum rent and is on a repayment agreement, the tenant may qualify for a hardship exemption. If a resident cannot afford the minimum rent, they can request to be exempted from future rent payments and future repayment payments. A hardship exemption should be requested before the resident stops paying rent.
      
  • Tenants still need to pay excess utility costs under the repayment agreement in order to avoid legal action, however, if you have specific concerns with your utilities being too high, you should file a grievance. You may also be eligible for an exemption to pay utilities if you have health needs that require you to use extra electricity, but you must request this exemption and should bring medical evidence of the health need to RRHA.

 

 

Attorneys Responsible

Victoria Horrock

Louisa Rich

Pat Levy-Lavelle

Marcel Slag

Crossover Update – Advocating for Change

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Crossover

 

We are halfway through the 2020 Virginia legislative session, and the bills that have passed through both the House and Senate have now “crossed over” to be considered in the opposite chamber. LAJC is happy to report that a majority of the legislation that we have supported is still up for consideration this year, including:

     

Pretrial Detention and Decriminalizing Poverty

The unconstitutional “Habitual Drunkard” statute is one step closer to finally being removed from the Virginia Code after a bill repealing it was approved in the House.  

Identical versions of our bill to permanently eliminate the practice of suspending driver’s licenses due to unpaid court debt has passed both chambers with wide margins (unanimously in the Senate)—one or both of these bills will still need to pass its opposite chamber before being sent to the Governor for signature, but their path looks promising. A second bill that repeals the 10-day mandatory minimum sentence given to drivers convicted of a third or subsequent offense of driving with a suspended license passed the Senate unanimously—there was no companion House bill, so we will be working that bill anew as it crosses over to the House. 

Our bills addressing pretrial detention have each have taken a different path.  The bill to roll back statutory presumptions that legally innocent people should be detained pretrial passed the House and has moved on to the Senate. Another bill to ensure meaningful first appearance in court with counsel did not make it out of the House, and a third bill to mandate the collection of a broad range of pretrial data did pass the Senate but with an a contingency clause that the final budget must include appropriate funding. While these bills may not make it through session, or at least not in their original forms, we continue to advocate for these efforts. 
   



Protecting Immigrant Virginians

The minimum wage reform bills that have passed both the House and Senate will be heading to a conference committee. We are working with the Raise the Wage Virginia coalition to ensure that farm and agricultural workers become protected under our state wage law. This important aspect is included in the bill that passed the House but not the one in the Senate.  We are advocating for its inclusion in the final legislation. 

There is a similar situation with the effort to limit the cooperation between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bill that has passed the House is much more comprehensive that the Senate version, so we are hopeful that the final conference committee language will maintain what is in the strong House bill.

Both chambers passed legislation to permit in-state tuition rates for any student who attended at least one year of high school in Virginia and graduates from high school in Virginia or attains a GED in the Commonwealth, regardless of immigration status—there may be some details to iron out in terms of how the final bill is designed, but we will be following the conference process closely to help shape that effort. 

The campaign for Driver’s Licenses for All is closer than ever to success. A bill has made it through both chambers, with the House bill providing true (non-REAL-ID) driver’s licenses to immigrants, while the Senate bill limits this to “Driver’s Privilege Cards.”  We believe it is vital to avoid a separate ID system for immigrants and are working with coalition members to advocate for the House bill’s provisions.

 


     

A Better Education

The House and Senate 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,” have passed both chambers, and the House version is already on its way to the Senate floor after a successful Senate committee appearance just one day after Crossover. We are hopeful that they will continue to move forward with broad support. 

There are three bills addressing school policing. One will open up data to the public on School Resource Officers’ (SRO) interactions with students, one increases and improves training for SROs, and the other increases how frequently agreements between schools and security agencies are reviewed. All three have passed both chambers

Also easily getting through both the House and Senatea bill to assure that school dress codes include anti-discrimination protections based on race and ethnicity, and one 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. 

The House bill 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 advance this session, while the Senate bill passed its own chamber with a contingency clause that the final budget must include appropriate funding. Still, even without the bills, we have a critical opportunity to increase funding for our K-12 schools and accomplish the bills’ goals through the budget itself. The process for creating the state budget is underway and our Fund Our Schools campaign is asking for help in calling the legislators who are negotiating the budgets.

   

Thank you for reading. We will update you at the end of the General Assembly session on what legislation has passed and what it means for our communities. 

Advocating for change – LAJC’s legislative priorities

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The 2020 Virginia legislative session is under way and LAJC has put forth an ambitious set of priorities to advocate for this year. With the legislature looking to take on some long-standing issues that affect our communities, we are optimistic that meaningful policy change is possible and are working with our elected representatives to help make it happen. 

This year our focus is on:

A Better Education

From pushing to fully and equitably fund our state’s K-12 public education system (see our Fund Our Schools campaign) to ending the criminalization of students for “disorderly conduct,” to stopping school pushout through unnecessary suspensions and expulsions, we are working with policy makers to ensure all students in Virginia have a chance to succeed. 

Pretrial Detention and Decriminalizing Poverty

This year we hope to see the permanent end of both driver’s license suspensions due to unpaid court fines and the unconstitutional “habitual drunkard” statute that preyed on the homeless and those struggling with the illness of alcoholism. We are also working to shed light on our pretrial system in Virginia courts where too many innocent people are being held in jail prior to ever seeing a trial resulting in housing instabillty, employment issues, and strained family relationships. 

Protecting Immigrant Virginians

We are working in tandem with other immigrants’ rights groups to advocate for more rights and better protections for our immigrant community members.  This includes fighting to end the mandate that local law enforcement report to Immigration and Customs enforcement (ICE), advocating for in-state tuition for immigrant who arrived too late for DACA eligibility, pushing to get drivers licenses for all residents of the state regardless of immigration status, and ensuring that farmworkers are included in minimum wage increases and have stronger health and safety protections.

We are also actively supporting other legal and advocacy organizations in their fights for better housing, healthcare, and other issues affecting low-income Virginians. 

You can read our full slate of legislative priorities here. 

It is a long list, but we are committed to seeing it through this session and have already had a number of issues move forward in the General Assembly: 

The bill that would provide “Driver’s Licenses for All” passed through the Senate Transportation Committee 

The Legislation that will decriminalize disorderly conduct in schools passed through the House Courts Committee

The bill that ends the mandated reporting to ICE from local law enforcement has made it through both the House Courts Committee and the Senate Judicary Committee

One of a series of bills addressing pretrial detention—this would mandate an attorney be present when a person first appears in a court—was heard in a sub-committee and moved through and referred to the appropriations committee 
  

And that is just a small sample of the news that is coming out of the Pocahontas building at the State Capital on a daily basi

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