|RICHMOND (March 8, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s legislative package for the 2020 General Assembly session has helped make this the most progressive legislative session in Virginia history. Attorney General Herring’s package includes bills that will make Virginia’s criminal justice system more fair, just, and equal; protect vulnerable communities; protect Virginia consumers; make Virginia an even more open and welcoming community; and more.
“I have been fighting for these measures and reforms for years, even when we had Republican majorities blocking our every move. This year, with a new Democratic majority, we finally saw these real, progressive changes come to fruition in Virginia,” said Attorney General Herring. “With things like decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, we are creating a fairer criminal justice system for all Virginians. We passed comprehensive consumer protection legislation so that Virginians do not have to fear falling into a cycle of debt and high-interest rates when taking out certain loans. Vulnerable communities can now feel more confident that their state and their elected officials are behind them and ready to protect them.
“Virginians voted in November for gun violence prevention and we were finally able to deliver. Too many Virginians have lost their lives to guns but Republicans have been okay with that status quo for too long. The Commonwealth is now a safer place because of commonsense gun safety measures like reinstating one hand gun a month, a red flag law, and universal background checks.
“I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate for helping pass my priorities for this year’s session. And we’re just getting started.”
The General Assembly passed House Bill 972 (Delegate Charniele Herring) and Senate Bill 2 (Senator Adam Ebbin) that will decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
“For far too long our approach to cannabis has needlessly saddled Virginians, especially African Americans and people of color, with criminal records. Those days are over,” said Attorney General Herring. With this historic vote we are making Virginia a more fair, just, equal, and progressive place. Decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path towards legal, regulated adult use, and one many thought was still years away, but we cannot stop now. We’ve shown that smart, progressive reform is possible and we must keep going.
“I want to thank my colleagues in the House and the Senate for helping me to make this issue a top priority and I look forward to watching the progress Virginia continues to make in the coming years.”
Attorney General 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 2019, Attorney General 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 Attorney General 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 (Delegate 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 (Delegate 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 (Delegate 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 in Virginia know that their state and their elected officials stand with them, ready to protect them, their families, and their fundamental rights,” said Attorney General Herring. “It is really gratifying to finally have my hate crimes and white-supremacist violence legislation passed after years of inaction by Republicans in the General Assembly.
“Preventing discrimination in both housing and unemployment, as well as making sure that there are policies in place that promote environmental justice in Virginia are all crucial to building stronger and more inclusive communities and I am proud to have been able to help get this important legislation passed.”
Attorney General 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 Delegate 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 Delegate 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 Senator 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 Senator Scott Surovell)
Protecting Virginia Consumers
This year, Attorney General Herring supported two bills (House Bill 789 Delegate Lamont Bagby and Senate Bill 421 Senator 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 Attorney General Herring’s Predatory Lending Unit more tools to enforce these new protections and better combat predatory lenders operating in the Commonwealth.
Attorney General Herring also supported House Bill 1553 (Delegate Rodney Willett) that will further protect Virginia borrowers by putting tighter restrictions and regulations on debt settlement service providers.
“This much needed comprehensive legislation tightens the rules on exploitative predatory lenders and closes easily abused loopholes so that Virginia borrowers are afforded the same protections regardless of the type of loan they seek,” said Attorney General Herring. “Virginia borrowers deserve to be protected from bad actors in every phase of the loan process from taking out a loan to paying that loan back.”
Firearms on School Property
Attorney General Herring’s bill House Bill 1080 (Delegate 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 a safe, secure learning environment when they come to school, and adding guns and armed, unqualified personnel to our classrooms is incompatible with that goal,” said Attorney General Herring. “The last thing we need to be doing is putting more guns in schools and in the hands of unqualified, untrained people. I hope all of us who care about the safety and success of our students can continue working together to make our schools safe and welcoming places for our young people to learn.”
In-State Tuition for DREAMers
In 2014, Attorney General 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, Attorney General Herring’s bill House Bill 1547 (Delegate Alfonso Lopez) 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, regardless of their citizenship status, deserves in-state tuition in their own home state,” said Attorney General Herring. “Clarifying this in Virginia code will give DREAMers and other students the peace of mind that their right to in-state tuition is now protected by law and no one will ever be able to deny them a higher education.”
Driver’s License Suspension
Attorney General 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 (Senator Stanley).
“No one should be punished with a suspended license just because they cannot immediately afford to pay their fines,” said Attorney General Herring. “This was bad policy from the beginning that disproportionately affected minority communities and I’m glad that we were able to change it.”
Attorney General Herring has pushed for legislation that will give localities the ability to remove, relocate, or contextualize Confederate monuments and statues and Senate Bill 183 (Senator Mamie Locke) will do just that.
“These grand, heroic Confederate monuments represent oppression and injustice to so many in our Commonwealth and limit a community’s ability to tell its own story,” said Attorney General Herring. “Giving communities the ability to remove or contextualize these monuments is an important step on Virginia’s path to becoming an even more open and welcoming community.”
Last fall, Attorney General 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, Attorney General Herring has been advocating to have the question about an applicant’s race removed from the marriage license application altogether. House Bill 180 (Delegate 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 the inclusion of the applicant’s race was necessary on any of these records and forms,” said Attorney General Herring. “I am pleased that we were initially able to find a solution by changing the forms and we now have legislation that will change this in state code.”
Attorney General Herring has made it a priority to strengthen enforcement of animal cruelty and other animal related crimes. This year, he supported Senate Bill 114 (Senator David Marsden) that will put certain animal care statutes under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, which will give the Office of the Attorney General even more tools to protect animals.
In 2015, Attorney General 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.
“People who abuse or kill animals are truly disgusting individuals, and oftentimes these kinds of crimes can lead to other serious crimes as well,” said Attorney General Herring. “I am extremely proud of the work my Animal Law Unit has done to crack down on animal cruelty and abuse and I am pleased that we now have even more tools at our disposal to go after these heinous crimes.”