New criminal justice, consumer bills that went into effect in Virginia on July 1
Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s legislative package, that helped to make the 2020 General Assembly session the most progressive in Virginia history, is set to go into effect today, July 1st.
Herring’s package includes bills that will make Virginia’s criminal justice system more fair, just, and equal; protect vulnerable communities; make Virginia an even more open and welcoming community; and more.
Additionally, Herring’s package included comprehensive consumer protection reforms that will go into effect in January 2021, after Herring asked Gov. Ralph Northam to move the effective date up earlier citing the need to better protect Virginians during these difficult financial times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tomorrow, when these new, progressive bills take effect, it will be a new day in Virginia. I have fought for these measures and reforms for years, even when the General Assembly was led by Republicans who would block our every move,” said Herring. “With things like decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, we are creating a more fair, just and equal Virginia. We were able to pass comprehensive consumer protections so that Virginians can take out certain kinds of small-dollar loans without falling into a vicious cycle of debt and high-interest rates. Vulnerable communities can now feel confident in knowing that their Commonwealth is behind them and ready to protect them from hate or other threats.
“Virginians voted last November for commonsense gun reform and this year we were finally able to deliver. For too long, too many Virginians were losing their lives at the end of a gun and Republicans were okay with keeping that status quo. Our communities and our families and loved ones are now safer because of these new gun safety measures like the one-handgun-a-month law, that I successfully defended in court just last week; a red flag law; and universal background checks.
“I want to thank my colleagues in both the Senate and the House for helping to pass my priorities this year. And I look forward to seeing how much more we are able to accomplish next year.”
“Virginia’s approach to cannabis hasn’t been working for far too long, needlessly saddling Virginians, especially Black Virginians and people of color, with criminal records. Those days are now behind us,” said Herring. “With this historic legislation, we are making Virginia a more just, fair, equal and progressive place. While decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path, we cannot stop until we have full legalization in the Commonwealth.
“I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate and the House for helping me make this a top priority and I look forward to the progress that Virginia will make on this issue in the coming years.”
Herring has become the leader on cannabis reform in Virginia following his call for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, action to address past convictions, and a move towards legal and regulated adult use. In his call for cannabis reform, he cited the unnecessary negative impact of a criminal conviction for possession, the expense and social costs of enforcing the current system, and the disparate impact on African Americans and people and communities of color.
In December, Herring held a cannabis summit for policymaking stakeholders in Virginia that focused on policy and included experts from attorneys generals’ offices, state agencies and legislative operations in states that have legalized cannabis, as well as cannabis policy experts.
Protecting Vulnerable Communities
The General Assembly passed Herring’s package of legislation that will better protect Virginians and vulnerable communities from hate crimes and white supremacist violence. The bills will update the Commonwealth’s definition of a hate crime, protect Virginians from violence and intimidation by hate groups and white supremacists, and make it harder for hate groups and white supremacists to threaten, intimidate, or hurt Virginians with firearms.
Additionally, the General Assembly passed House Bill 6 (Del. Jeff Bourne) that added discrimination on the basis of a person’s income to the list of unlawful discriminatory housing practices and House Bill 1663 (Del. Mark Sickles) that creates explicit causes of action for unlawful discrimination in public housing and employment under the Virginia Human Rights Act.
The General Assembly also passed House Bill 704 (Del. Mark Keam) that provides that there will be a policy in Virginia that promotes environmental justice.
“It is so important to make sure that vulnerable communities throughout Virginia know that their elected officials and their state stands behind them, ready to protect them, their families, and their fundamental rights,” said Herring. “It is incredibly gratifying this year to finally have my hate crimes and white supremacist violence legislation passed after many years of being held up in committee by Republicans in the General Assembly.”
“Preventing discrimination, both in housing and in unemployment, as well as putting policies in place that will promote environmental justice here in Virginia are all crucial elements to building stronger, more inclusive communities. I am proud I was able to help get this important legislation passed.”
Herring’s hate crimes and white supremacist violence legislative package is below:
- Updating Virginia’s definition of “hate crime”: This bill will create protections against hate crimes committed on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. (House Bill 618 Del. Ken Plum)
- Empowering the Attorney General to prosecute hate crimes: This bill will allow the Attorney General to prosecute hate crimes through the Commonwealth’s network of multijurisdictional grand juries. (House Bill 787 Del. Lamont Bagby)
- Prohibiting Paramilitary Activity: This bill will further restrict the kind of paramilitary activity by white supremacist militias and similar groups that was seen in Charlottesville in August 2017 (Senate Bill 64 Sen. Louise Lucas)
- Firearms at Permitted Events: This bill authorizes communities to ban firearms in a public space during a permitted event, or an event that would otherwise require a permit. (Senate Bill 35 Sen. Scott Surovell)
Protecting Virginia Consumers
This year, Herring supported two bills (House Bill 789 Del. Lamont Bagby and Senate Bill 421 Sen. Mamie Locke) that were passed by the General Assembly that will enact comprehensive predatory lending reforms in Virginia. The legislation tightens the rules on exploitative predatory lenders and closes easily abused loopholes so that Virginia borrowers are afforded protections regardless of the type of loan they seek.
It will also give Herring’s Predatory Lending Unit more tools to enforce these new protections and better combat predatory lenders operating in the Commonwealth. These bills will go into effect January 2021 after Herring asked Gov. Northam to move the effective date earlier citing the need to better protect Virginians during these difficult financial times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Herring also supported House Bill 1553 (Del. Rodney Willett) that will further protect Virginia borrowers by putting tighter restrictions and regulations on debt settlement service providers.
“This much needed comprehensive consumer protection legislation closes easily abused loopholes and tightens the rules on exploitative predatory lenders ensuring that Virginia borrowers do not have to worry about falling into a cycle of debt and high interest rates if they take out certain kinds of loans,” said Herring. “Virginia consumers deserve to be protected during every phase of the loan process and this comprehensive legislation will help with that.”
Firearms on School Property
Herring’s bill House Bill 1080 (Del. Patrick Hope) further clarifies that only trained, authorized individuals may carry a gun at schools. This bill follows an opinion Attorney General Herring put out that concluded that schools could not designate just anyone as a special conservator of the peace and allow them to carry a firearm on school property.
“Our kids deserve to go to school in a safe, secure learning environment. Adding guns and armed, unqualified individuals to our classrooms and our schools does not align with that goal,” said Herring. “The last thing we need to do to keep our children safe is to put more guns in schools and in the hands of untrained, unqualified personnel. I hope we can all work together to continue to find safe, effective ways to make our schools safe and welcoming places for our kids to learn and grow.”
In-State Tuition for DREAMers
In 2014, Herring sent a letter to the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, the presidents of Virginia’s colleges and universities, and the chancellor of the Virginia Community College System advising that Virginia students who are lawfully present in the United States under DACA quality for in-state tuition.
This year, Herring supported House Bill 1547 (Del. Alfonso Lopez) that further clarifies that any student is eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of citizenship status, as long as they have fulfilled the necessary requirements.
“Every student deserves in-state tuition in their own home state, regardless of what their citizenship status is,” said Herring. “I hope that knowing that their right to in-state tuition is now protected in Virginia code and no one will be able to deny them a higher education will give DREAMers peace of mind.”
Driver’s License Suspension
Herring worked with the General Assembly this year to ensure that there was a permanent fix that ended Virginia’s license suspension policy and strongly supported Senate Bill 1 (Sen. Stanley).
“No one should have their license suspended just because they are unable to immediately pay their fines,” said Herring. “This was a bad policy from the start and it disproportionately affected minority communities and I’m pleased we were able to change it.”
Herring has pushed for legislation that will give localities the ability to remove, relocate, or contextualize Confederate monuments and statues and Senate Bill 183 (Sen. Mamie Locke) will do just that.
“These grandiose Confederate monuments memorialize one of the darkest periods in Virginia history and they represent oppression and injustice to so many who call our Commonwealth home,” said Herring. “Giving localities the ability to remove or contextualize their monuments will allow these communities to tell their own stories – an important step on Virginia’s path to becoming even more open and welcoming.”
Last fall, Herring sent a memo to clerks of court around Virginia explaining that state law “does not require a clerk to refuse to issue a marriage license when the applicant declines to identify his or her race, and that clerks should issue a license regardless of an applicant’s answer or non-answer to that inquiry.” Along with the memo, clerks also received a newly updated marriage license form that gave applicants the option to decline to answer a question about the applicant’s race.
Since issuing the memo, Herring has been advocating to have the question about an applicant’s race removed from the marriage license application altogether. House Bill 180 (Del. Mark Levine) removes all requirements that an individual’s race be included on any kind of marriage record, divorce report, or annulment report.
“It was never clear why any of these records and forms included a question about the applicant’s race,” said Herring. “I’m glad my office was able to initially find a solution by changing the forms and now this new legislation will change it in Virginia code.”
Herring has made it a priority to strengthen enforcement of animal cruelty and other animal related crimes. This year, Herring’s Senate Bill 114 (Sen. David Marsden) will put certain animal care statutes under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and give the Office of the Attorney General even more tools to protect animals.
In 2015, Herring created the nation’s first OAG Animal Law Unit to serve as a training and prosecution resource for state agencies, investigators, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys around the state dealing with matters involving animal fighting, cruelty, and welfare. Illegal animal fighting is closely tied to illegal gambling, drug and alcohol crimes, and violence against animals has been shown to be linked to violence towards other people.
“Individuals who harm or kill animals are truly disgusting, and oftentimes these types of crimes can lead to other, more serious crimes as well,” said Herring. “I am incredibly proud of the fantastic work my Animal Law Unit has done to crack down on animal abuse and cruelty and I am glad we will now have even more tools in our toolbox to go after these terrible crimes.”