House Democrats discuss criminal justice reform, opioid crisis
Delegate Jay Jones, Delegate Joe Lindsey, Delegate Steve Heretick, Delegate Mike Mullin, and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, spoke on legislation on reforming the criminal justice system. Delegate John Bell and Delegate Paul Krizek discussed two bills that were aimed at reducing opioid-related deaths.
“Virginia lags behind other states on many issues, such as the way we treat returning citizens, the outrageously outdated definition of felony larceny, and how our courts deal with offenders in poverty,” said Delegate Jay Jones, who led the press conference. He kicked off by speaking on a bill sponsored by Delegate Lashrecse Aird that “bans the box” on state job applications.
“Returning citizens need support, not barriers,” Delegate Jones said of the legislation, which would prohibit state agencies from asking job applicants if they have been convicted of a crime, subject to certain exceptions. “Folks that are taking their second chance at life seriously should not be strained by regressive laws that unnecessarily make life harder for them”.
The House Democratic Caucus also presented their legislation on raising the felony larceny threshold. Virginia is tied with New Jersey for the lowest felony bar in the country at only $200.
“Two hundred dollars might have been okay in 1980 when a gallon of gas was 86 cents, but now in 2018 we must adjust to the times,” said Delegate Joseph Lindsey, who has sponsored a bill to raise the threshold. “This is an outdated law that needs to be updated, and this Democratic Caucus is committed to working with everyone in this legislative body to get this done.”
Delegate Steve Heretick, who has practiced criminal law, spoke to his personal experience dealing with a young client who became felon, “who stole a pair of sneakers, a dare among his friends, a senseless immature lark. This smart, talented young man is forever branded by this mistake.”
Heretick, who has also sponsored a bill to raise the larceny threshold, continued: “No one here condones, excuses, or minimizes the seriousness of these offenses. We seek only to make the punishment fit the crime, as it once did.”
Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who as a public defender has seen firsthand the need for criminal justice reform, presented her bill that would make driving on a suspended or revoked driver’s license would be punishable as a traffic infraction rather than as a misdemeanor in cases in which the individual’s licenses was revoked or suspended for failure to pay court-ordered fines.
“We need a smarter, fairer, more effective criminal justice system – not a system that punishes people simply for being poor,” said Delegate Carroll Foy. “For years, we have seen politicians claim that punitive, so-called ‘tough on crime’ laws will keep us safe. But they don’t. These laws disportionately hurt African-Americans and Latinos, rip families apart, and pass along billions of dollars in expenses to taxpayers – all without improving public safety.”
Delegate Mike Mullin introduced a bill that would would ensure that judges inform those they are sentencing about community service options in lieu of paying court fines.
“A failure or inability to pay court costs, fines, and fees can be a contributing factor to recidivism,” Delegate Mullin said. “A measure like this will be beneficial to individuals, the criminal justice system, taxpayers, and society generally.”
Delegate Paul Krizek presented a bill carried by Delegate Jeff Bourne that would allow correctional professionals to administer Narcan.
“Probation and parole officers come into contact constantly with offenders in their offices and in the community and need to be able to respond quickly to overdose situations,” Delegate Krizek said. “In the case of an overdose, minutes and seconds can be the difference between life and death.”
Delegate John Bell introduced his bill that would require health insurers to provide coverage for alternative pain management for those dealing with addiction. Delegate Bell shared his personal story of how his son became addicted to opioids after being prescribed painkillers following a car accident.
“This is a non-partisan issue; this is a crisis and we have been able to work together on this and hope to continue to do so,” said Delegate Bell. “When someone hurts their knee, they need medicine – but the last thing we want is for them to fall into relapse.”