Dear Michael,

After more than 60 days of proposals, discussions, and debate, the 2020 special legislative session is now wrapping up. LAJC worked closely with community members, advocacy partners, and state representatives to push for change on a number of fronts, from advocating to keep Virginians in their homes during a pandemic to pushing for meaningful civilian oversight of law enforcement statewide.  Keep reading for a breakdown of what happened and what's next.  

 

Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement 

A big win in this special session is a new law, championed by Senator Hashmi and Delegate Herring, enabling localities to create civilian oversight of law enforcement with broad power to audit finances and review policies, subpoena power, and final disciplinary authority (among other measures). This tremendous victory grew directly out of LAJC's work alongside community campaigns for police accountability, both with the Charlottesville People's Coalition and the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project. According to the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, this legislation is likely the first of its kind in the country. 

 
 
 

Inspect ICE

Following a massive COVID-19 outbreak at the notorious Farmville immigration detention center, the General Assembly passed a bill, championed by Senator Boysko, to explicitly address the health standards at Virginia immigrant detention centers. Starting in 2021, this bill will add immigrant detention centers to the Commonwealth's definition of "local correctional facility" with regards to health inspections and standards and adds them to their regimen of yearly and emergency inspections. It was not an easy fight to see this critical reform through the legislative process, and we are thankful for our partners who worked to make this a reality. This is an important early step in our continued advocacy for the rights of those detained by immigration authorities. 

 
 
 

Expungement

Both the Senate and the House put forward bills that would expunge (permanently remove) certain offenses from a person's criminal record after meeting specific requirements. Currently, the law only allows for the expungement of charges that did not result in a conviction, and only if you petition the state to do so. In the special session, both the House and the Senate moved forward bipartisan legislation to expand what can be expunged in Virginia but in very different ways. Unfortunately, no agreement could be reached between the two chambers on a final version, so no bill moved forward.  

LAJC supports the creation of an automated system that would allow expungement of dozens of misdemeanors and felony convictions after several years have passed. Such a system would be far more accessible to the people who need expungement relief. We expect to revisit this issue in the spring legislative session. 

 
 
 

 School Funding

While our hope that the General Assembly would tap into the Rainy Day Fund to help schools during this pandemic was not realized, the Fund Our Schools Coalition did win the allocation of $220 million in federal CARES funds for schools to use for testing, personal protective equipment, COVID-19-related school renovations, and distance learning. The proposed state budget includes several measures to help Virginia schools—from insulating them from the loss of state tax revenues and lower school enrollment during the pandemic, to dramatically increasing the funds available to the At-Risk Add-On program, to funding increased pre-k access for low-income families.  

 
 
 

Eviction Prevention

Throughout the special session, we worked with community partners to advocate for a complete moratorium on evictions during the health crisis, keeping Virginians in their homes and safe. In the end, lawmakers only included very minimal protections for tenants in the state budget that, while better than nothing, leaves far too many residents at risk of homelessness. The budget provides some protections for those unable to pay rent but not for tenants facing eviction for other reasons such as having someone stay too long at their residence. And while we applaud the provision that says landlords must apply for rent-relief funds, a loophole drastically weakens its effectiveness. We will continue to push for meaningful protections for tenants in 2021. 

 
 
 

There were some tough fights and long days during this special session, but in the end, we are celebrating some significant wins with our communities. While we did not see everything we hoped for move forward this round, we know the work we all did has paved the way for continued change in the next legislative session. Thank you for your continued support of our work.  

 

- Legal Aid Justice Center

 
 

Legal Aid Justice Center
Charlottesville / Falls Church / Richmond / Petersburg
info@justice4all.org

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