RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he is expanding the mission and extending the term of the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law.
“Acknowledging and addressing the systemic, institutional racism that is deeply-rooted in this country and this Commonwealth continues to be a top priority for our administration,” said Governor Northam. “While we have made significant progress, there is more work to do to eliminate the bias and discrimination that has remained entrenched in our policies even as laws and regulations have evolved. The efforts of this Commission are central to uncovering these inequities, dismantling the systems that have disproportionately hurt communities of color, and forging a path towards racial equity for all who live, work, and, and visit our Commonwealth.”
One year ago, Governor Northam established the Commission to examine and identify racially discriminatory language in the Acts of Assembly and the Code of Virginia that should be removed. The Governor is now reauthorizing the nine-member Commission and directing it to identify current state laws and regulations that create or perpetuate inequities, propose changes to increase protections for minority and marginalized Virginians, and provide policy recommendations for state agencies and institutions. The Commission will focus the next stage of its work on public safety, criminal justice, education, health, housing, and voting.
“Virginia has a responsibility to lead at this defining moment given its foundational contributions to the institutionalized racism that has helped define the treatment of African Americans,” said Cynthia Hudson, Chair of the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law. “The Commission is ready to act with the same determination it applied in the first phase of its work, setting in motion the critical reforms we need to answer the demand and eliminate the shameful disparity between the treatment of people of color and the treatment of whites in our criminal justice system, access to education, housing, healthcare, and more. We all need to work together to undo the damage of our history, and we welcome input and support from others as we set about to do this important work.”
In its interim report issued in December, the Commission cited nearly 100 instances of language in Virginia’s Acts of Assembly and the Code of Virginia that was intended to or could have the effect of promoting or enabling racial discrimination.
“The work of the Commission has never been more critical to the public health of the Commonwealth, especially as we think about how to change specific laws that have been engrained in white supremacy and institutionalized racism,” said Dr. Janice Underwood, Chief Diversity Officer. “The administration looks forward to collaboratively examining thoughtful strategies to build intentional momentum, synergy, and a cohesive partnership with the Commission and other partners to advance a robust racial equity agenda for 2021.”
During the last legislative session, Governor Northam signed bills repealing racist laws from Virginia’s Acts of Assembly. This includes laws that blocked the desegregation of schools, banned interracial marriage, implemented a state poll tax, required election officials to separate voter registration records by race, and prevented black and white Virginians from living in the same neighborhoods and traveling on the same railcars, streetcars, and buses. While subsequent federal and state legislation and court decisions have reversed many of these Acts, the overtly discriminatory language had remained on Virginia’s books as an all but hidden reminder of the Commonwealth’s painful legacy of pervasive, deliberate racism and forced segregation.
“The Commission is particularly thankful for the student researchers from across Virginia who have spent hours and hours identifying racially discriminatory laws in need of repeal and, more recently, identifying ongoing racial disparities in the areas of housing, education, criminal justice, voting, and health,” said Andy Block, Vice Chair of the Commission. “Their work has been indispensable, and they are now helping the Commission develop an initial set of policy responses to address these disparities. It is inspiring to see how committed this next generation of attorneys and advocates is to racial equity and inclusion.”
The full text of amended Executive Order Thirty-Two can be found here.
Those interested in learning more about the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law and its work can find additional information on the Commission’s website. The Commission will issue a second report with its findings and recommendations by November 15, 2020.