Northam priorities: Affordable housing, broadband access, HBCUs, police reform

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Gov. Ralph Northam is highlighting his administration’s key priorities for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly special session, set to begin on Tuesday.

Legislators will reconvene to address Virginia’s biennial budget, which has been severely impacted by the ongoing global pandemic. In addition, Northam is proposing several measures to advance equity, reform policing, and protect the safety, health, and welfare of Virginians.

“Virginians are hurting, and the Commonwealth is stepping up,” Northam said. “Our country is battling both a health crisis and an economic crisis at once, so Virginia is advancing new programs to help people stay in their homes, care for the ones they love, and feel safe in the community.”

Affordable housing

Northam is proposing $88 million in state funding to combat evictions and to expand access to affordable housing. These investments include an $85 million investment in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, which will complement federal CARES Act funding to expand access to affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and protect Virginians from eviction.

The governor is also proposing $3.3 million in funding to establish an Eviction Prevention and Diversion Pilot Program to reduce evictions in communities across the Commonwealth.

In addition, Northam is proposing a pause on evictions until at least April 30, 2021, tied to the requirement that landlords and tenants work together on a payment plan and seek out financial assistance, including through Virginia’s statewide Rent and Mortgage Relief Program.

The package includes a moratorium on utility disconnections for electric, water and natural gas utilities until 60 days after the current state of emergency ends.

Access to broadband

A recent SCHEV report found that nearly 200,000 K-12 students and 60,000 college students across Virginia lack access to broadband at home. To address this, Northam is proposing a record $85 million to expand access to broadband for unserved communities. This investment in the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative will fund last-mile broadband infrastructure across the Commonwealth.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Northam is proposing a $15 million investment in Virginia’s public HBCUs. This funding will increase support for underserved students and will fund technology upgrades.

Police and criminal justice reform

The governor’s special session priorities include measures to:

  • Expand the criteria for which a law enforcement officer can be decertified, to include officers who are terminated due to law or policy violations or resign during an ongoing investigation.
  • Empower Virginia’s Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings when de-certifiable conduct is brought to the Board’s attention, regardless of written notice from a local law enforcement department.
  • Require law enforcement officers to intervene when they see a colleague engaging in or attempting to engage in unlawful use of force.
  • Standardize law-enforcement training across Virginia through development of statewide minimum training standards, curriculum, and lesson plans, to include use of force tactics;
  • Mandate information-sharing between hiring agencies and previous employers and strengthen the vetting process of newly-hired officers.
  • Create best practices for Civilian Review Panels and empower localities to establish review panels.
  • Diversify the Criminal Justice Services Board’s Committee on Training to include representatives from civil rights and community organizations, and require opportunities for public input into the development of training standards.

 


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