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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Shannon Ellis, Attorney
Legal Aid Justice Center
434-529-1815
shannon@justice4all.org

WOMAN PRISONER AT FLUVANNA SEEKS RELIEF FROM LIFE-THREATENING MEDICATION FAILURES

Charlottesville, Va., April 30, 2019 — A woman incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) filed a motion today in federal court seeking relief from the prison’s repeated, life-threatening mismanagement of her medication. Ms. Margie Ryder, 39, suffers from terminal pulmonary arterial hypertension and is dependent for her survival upon appropriate administration of a powerful medication continuously delivered to her heart through a pump.  Over the past year, Ms. Ryder has been repeatedly hospitalized due to FCCW’s failure to appropriately provide this medication.  The motion filed today describes the daily fear Ms. Ryder suffers, wondering each time she receives her medication whether FCCW’s next mistake will be the one that kills her. 

Under the terms of the Scott v. Clarke class action Settlement Agreement approved by a federal judge in 2016, FCCW is obligated to provide medications in a “timely, safe, and sufficient manner.”  In January 2019, the federal court overseeing the Scott case ruled that FCCW had failed to comply with this requirement, as well as numerous other provisions of the Settlement Agreement. After hearing evidence in a weeklong enforcement trial, the Court concluded that FCCW had failed to appropriately and timely supply, distribute, and administer medications, and that this failure was of such a broad, systemic nature that the prison’s repeated dangerous medication mistakes were “hardly surprising.”  Among other remedies, the Court ordered FCCW to conduct extensive re-training of the nurses employed at the prison and to develop a new protocol ensuring that patients had access to appropriate medical care.  Unfortunately, the need for today’s motion makes it clear that—months later—FCCW’s medication failures continue, seriously endangering the lives of women like Ms. Ryder.

“My sentence was to serve a period of time, not to die,” said Ms. Ryder.  “I desperately want to make it through the rest of my sentence so that I can be released back to my family before my time comes.”

“Ms. Ryder’s suffering is a direct result of the Department of Corrections’ ongoing failure to adequately address long-standing, well-known problems at FCCW,” said Shannon Ellis, an attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center and co-counsel for the Plaintiff prisoners.  “Failures in funding, failures in staffing, and a fundamental culture of disrespect and disregard for prisoner patients fuel a dysfunctional system that results in tragedy.”

Today’s motion, filed by lawyers at the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), Wiley Rein LLP, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee (WLC), asks the Court to order DOC to develop and implement a plan to safely administer Ms. Ryder’s medications, including ensuring appropriate nurse training and oversight.  It also seeks to open lines of communication at the prison between the medical staff and the plaintiff attorneys to ensure that future situations like Ms. Ryder’s can be addressed as quickly and cooperatively as possible.

Emergency Motion (PDF)

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, 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.

About Wiley Rein
Wiley Rein LLP is a leading law firm located in Washington, DC, where it is a dominant presence with more than 270 attorneys and public policy advisors. Wiley Rein has earned international prominence by representing clients in complex, high-stakes regulatory, litigation, and transactional matters. 

About The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
From its inception in 1968, the mission of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs has been to mobilize the resources of the private bar to address issues of civil rights violations and poverty in our community. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee provides pro bono representation in a broad range of civil rights and related poverty issues impacting every group protected by our federal, state and local civil rights laws.

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Follow Legal Aid Justice Center on Twitter @LegalAidJustice and find us on Facebook.

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Hallie Ryan, Managing Attorney, 703-226-3426, hallie@justice4all.org
Tim Wallace, Dir. of Development, 434-529-1853, twallace@justice4all.org

Fourth Circuit: If ICE agents break into your house illegally, you have no remedy

Falls Church, Va., April 26, 2019 — Today a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that ICE agents may violate clearly-established constitutional rights, and that the victims – U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike – have no legal remedy. Tun-Cos et al. v. Perrotte et al. is a case challenging unconstitutional, warrantless home raids by agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“The decision flies in the face of established Supreme Court precedent providing that victims of unconstitutional home raids by law enforcement can sue,” says Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program. “The effect of this decision is to treat ICE agents differently from FBI agents and other federal officers, granting ICE agents complete impunity if they commit egregious constitutional violations – a troubling result that should alarm all of us.”

The Tun-Cos case involved so-called “Bivens” claims, which are claims for damages against federal officials for violations of constitutional rights. The ability to recover damages for harms suffered at the hands of government officials when they violate clearly established constitutional rights deters illegal conduct and serves as a critical protection for all those living in America. Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that such lawsuits may be brought against federal law enforcement officers who commit unconstitutional searches and seizures, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit found that immigration enforcement presented a “new context” and that the plaintiffs had no right to bring a Bivens claim against the agents.

“This decision allows ICE agents to go from door to door, invading U.S. citizens’ homes without a warrant or probable cause, based instead on racial profiling, and those citizens will have no ability to hold them accountable, no matter how flagrant the conduct,” says Sandoval-Moshenberg. “This decision affects every single person, citizen and noncitizen alike.”

The Legal Aid Justice Center and pro bono co-counsel at Covington & Burling are reviewing the decision and all options for further review, including a petition to the full Fourth Circuit to rehear the case en banc. “This case strikes at the heart of protections granted by the Bill of Rights – can the government invade your home without probable cause and without a warrant, and leave you without a remedy?” said Hallie Ryan, Managing Attorney at Legal Aid Justice Center. “An issue of this importance should be decided by the entire Fourth Circuit.” 

Fourth Circuit Opinion (PDF)

Background on the Case
Tun-Cos et al. v. Perrotte et al. is a lawsuit which alleges that at 5 a.m. on February 8, 2017, a team of ICE agents coerced entry into the northern Virginia home of Jose Carcamo without a warrant, purportedly searching for a suspect. Once inside, the team of agents went from door-to-door in the home, rounded up all the male residents and detained them in the living rooms, and demanded they produce proof of U.S. citizenship. When some could not, the ICE agents arrested them. The plaintiffs alleged that mid-raid, one ICE agent asked the U.S. citizen homeowner “are there any other Spanish families on this street?”  A few days later, the plaintiffs allege that the same team of ICE agents invaded a second home just a few miles away. In this incident, the ICE agents boxed in the car of two men as they were leaving for work, marched them to the door of their homes and demanded entry. Once inside, the agents again went from door-to-door, detained all the male residents and arrested those who could not produce proof of immigration status on-demand. The U.S. citizen homeowner, his family members, and those arrested all sued the ICE agents in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, demanding they be held accountable for the egregious constitutional violations.

In April 2018, the district court allowed the lawsuit to go forward after the ICE agents attempted to dismiss the case. The court found that the plaintiffs had alleged violations of clearly established constitutional rights and had the right to hold the agents accountable.

Legal Aid Justice Center brought the case with the support of Covington & Burling pro bono counsel.

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, immigration, healthcare, workers’ rights, and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.  www.justice4all.org 

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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. 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Becky Wolozin, Attorney, 703-720-5606, becky@justice4all.org
Tim Wallace, Dir. of Development, 434-529-1853, twallace@justice4all.org

4th Circuit decision on ICE transfers upholds court oversight but fails families

Falls Church, Va., April 16, 2019 — Today the 4th Circuit issued a decision in Reyna v. Hott, a case challenging ICE’s practice of transferring detained parents across the country and far away from their children and families. In an important win for immigration advocates, the Court unequivocally held that it had the power to hear cases challenging the way ICE transfers detainees to different detention centers. This important holding will allow advocates to continue to challenge unlawful and harmful ICE practices.

However, the Court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the case, failing to recognize a right to family unity for detained immigrants and their U.S. citizen children. In Virginia, the majority of immigrants that are detained by ICE have been living in the United States and many have families and US Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident children who also live in Virginia. Nonetheless, ICE transfers these detained parents across the country with no consideration of the needs of their children to visit their parents, or their own rights as parents to provide care and nurture to their children through in-person visits during the traumatic period of detention.

“While we are happy the court recognized its power to hold the government accountable for its arbitrary and punitive transfer practices, we are disappointed that the 4th circuit failed to recognize the importance of family unity in the context of detainee transfers. The parent-child relationship is not an on-off switch, and being able to visit their parents in person while their parents are detained is important to mitigate the harm done by the fact of detention,” says Becky Wolozin, attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center. “Instead, the 4th Circuit declined to provide relief for parents detained at great distances from their children, making in person visitation impossible causing exponential harm to the child and to the parent-child relationship.”

Fourth Circuit Opinion (PDF)

Background:
Reyna v. Hott was a lawsuit attempting to require ICE to consider the interests of the parent and the child in providing care and nurture through in-person visits before transferring parents far away from their families. The claim was based on a violation of due process because the government is unlawfully infringing on the liberty interest in family unity (held by both the parent and the child in the 4th circuit). The Plaintiffs contended that ICE was infringing on this interest because they did not provide notice or an opportunity for the parent or child to be heard regarding the harm that transfer of the parent would cause the child or the parent-child relationship.

The district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss because the judge found that the harm was done by the fact of detention, and that there was no further harm done by transferring parents great distances from where there children live, thereby essentially preventing visitation between parents and children.

Legal Aid Justice Center brought the case with the support of CapitalOne pro bono counsel.

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, immigration, healthcare, workers’ rights, and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.  www.justice4all.org

About CaptialOne
Capital One Financial Corporation is headquartered in McLean, Virginia. Its subsidiaries, Capital One, N.A. and Capital One Bank (USA), N. A., offer a broad spectrum of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients. We apply the same principles of innovation, collaboration and empowerment in our commitment to our communities across the country that we do in our business. We recognize that helping to build strong and healthy communities – good places to work, good places to do business and good places to raise families – benefits us all and we are proud to support this and other community initiatives. www.capitaloneinvestingforgood.com

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
APRIL 3, 2019

LEGAL AID JUSTICE CENTER
Contact: Amy Woolard, 434-529-1846, amy@justice4all.org

BUDGET AMENDMENT REINSTATING DRIVER’S LICENSES FOR THOUSANDS OF VIRGINIANS PASSES

Today the General Assembly rose to a tremendous occasion and passed a budget amendment that brings fairness and justice to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Virginians whose driver’s licenses will now be reinstated from suspensions levied for unpaid court fines and fees.  This amendment will also help countless others by preventing future court debt-related suspensions for the remaining duration of the state budget.  All Virginians must have a fair opportunity to fulfill their obligations without losing their jobs, their ability to care for their families, and their dignity.

We are so grateful to Sen. Bill Stanley, the members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Governor Northam and his administration, and all the policymakers who shepherded this effort to success.  We are also thankful for our many partners in advocacy who fought with us for this common-sense reform.

Without question, we celebrate an important victory today along with many of our clients in the Stinnie v Holcomb litigation, but we also hold the understanding that our efforts are not complete.  The passage of this amendment does not moot the Stinnie case, nor does it end our legislative advocacy: the action taken in this amendment lives only as long as the current budget cycle, “freezing” court debt-related driver’s license suspensions until the existing statute can be fully repealed.  For today, however, we are only filled with gratitude for this positive step, and will wait another day to assess what work is left to be done.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Amy Woolard, Attorney & Policy Coordinator, 434-284-1134, amy@justice4all.org
Tim Wallace, Dir. of Development, 434-529-1853, twallace@justice4all.org

GOV. NORTHAM ANNOUNCES BUDGET AMENDMENT TO GIVE FULL GENERAL ASSEMBLY CHANCE TO VOTE ON DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSION REPEAL

Charlottesville, Va., March 25, 2019 — Governor Northam announced today at a press conference that he will submit a budget amendment for consideration during the Reconvened Session next month that will give the Virginia General Assembly the opportunity to end the practice of suspending the driver’s licenses of those who fail to pay court fees and fines.

The current law that mandates the automatic suspension of licenses for unpaid court debt hurts people like Brianna Morgan, one of the named plaintiffs in a pending class action lawsuit filed by Legal Aid Justice Center. “Without my license, my own health suffered; rather than go to my specialists, I’d have to call an ambulance to go to the emergency room,” Brianna explained at the press conference. “And without my license, I couldn’t take my kids places, to help them learn and grow and do stuff that all kids should be able to experience.”

A bill that would have accomplished the change the Governor is seeking was introduced this year by Senator Bill Stanley.  “The Commonwealth can no longer justify what has essentially become a ‘debtors’ prison’ under our watch in the General Assembly,” Senator Stanley wrote in statement provided to the press. “That’s why I introduced SB1013 this legislative session to repeal the current law that mandates these unjust suspensions merely because a person cannot afford to pay the fines and costs.  While my bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, It was never heard by the full House of Delegates, even though it had overwhelming bipartisan support both inside and outside of the legislature.”

“We’ve worked for years with both Republicans and Democrats to get this common sense reform passed,” said Legal Aid Justice Center Executive Director Angela Ciolfi.  “We’re hopeful that the General Assembly will seize this critical opportunity to end this unconstitutional practice, which reaches deep into the daily lives of nearly one million Virginians, standing in the way of not only their attempts to pay their debts, but also their need to care for their families and maintain their jobs.”

Statement from Senator Stanley (PDF)

Remarks from Brianna Morgan, Petersburg Virginia (PDF)

Remarks from LAJC Executive Director Angela Ciolfi (PDF)

Driver’s License Suspension Fact Sheet (PDF)

About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out the inequities that keep people in poverty. LAJC’s four programs: Civil Rights and Racial Justice, Economic Justice, Immigrant Advocacy, and JustChildren focus on the most pressing problems facing low income Virginians.

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Follow Legal Aid Justice Center on Twitter @LegalAidJustice and find us on Facebook.

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Norfolk City Jail helps ICE arrest and deport Virginia immigrants.

In August 2017, the Norfolk City Jail entered a modified Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA) with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to allow immigrants in ICE custody to be temporarily held by the Jail.  Since then an estimated 1,200 immigrants in ICE custody have been held at the Jail, most of whom have not had a hearing before a judge and many with no criminal history. 

Read full report: ICE ON THE HARBOR

Press Coverage: Virginian Pilot

Join LAJC and local organizations for a community discussion on Norfolk Jail’s partnership with ICE.