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.
“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,” said Herring.
“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 787Delegate 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)