In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Marcus-David Peters, Natasha McKenna, Kionte Spencer, and countless Black and Brown Americans have thrust into the spotlight the grave injustices and inequities communities of color face. Virginia lawmakers held a special legislative session to address these issues, and while they made some progress, the reforms passed fell short of the transformational change that Virginians deserve. The 2021 General Assembly is underway, and we are pursuing three priority issues:

  • Ensuring that any legislation that legalizes marijuana commits to address the harms to Black and Brown communities resulting from years of disparate law enforcement as a consequence of the War on Drugs.
  • Making police as accountable for harming people as any other individual, by ensuring that people have the right to sue police who have seriously harmed them or killed a family member.
  • Urging the legislature to take the first step toward putting an amendment on the ballot to ensure all Virginians 18 and older can never lose the right to vote.

1. Legalizing marijuana for racial justice

Marijuana laws are enforced more harshly on Black people and communities of color. Although the General Assembly said they “decriminalized” marijuana in the 2020 General Assembly session, possession is still illegal, only the penalty has changed. Black people are still subjected disproportionately to police stops, are more often charged and face harsher sentences.

Working with organizations that also advocate for equitable marijuana reform, we are seeking to legalize marijuana at the 2021 General Assembly session with a racial justice focus. We call on Virginia lawmakers to repeal the prohibition on possession of marijuana right away until a legal system is set up, repair the harm of the War on Drugs on Black and Brown communities, and create opportunities for impacted people to thrive in the new legal market. 

Bill information

  • SB 1406 (co-patrons: Sen. Ebbin and Sen. Lucas)
  • HB 2312 (patron: Del. Herring)

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2. Holding police accountable for their misconduct

Federal courts have given police a free pass called "qualified immunity" that keeps them from being held accountable under federal civil rights laws for the injuries they cause. We can't change that – only Congress can – but we can ask and must expect our Virginia legislature to pass a law ensuring that police and their employers aren't immune from being held accountable in court to pay Virginians damages when on-the-job misconduct of police results in death or serious injury. 

We must pass a law that gives any Virginian harmed by police the unqualified right to bring an action in a state court before a state judge to hold the police officer and and their employer accountable for harm caused by their misconduct. 

Bill information

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3. Guaranteeing the right to vote 

Virginia is one of only three states that permanently punishes people convicted of a felony by taking away their right to vote unless the governor individually gives it back – an often long and arduous process. This archaic rule disenfranchises more than 350,000 Virginians who can’t vote but who pay taxes every year, disproportionately leaving Black people out of the democratic process. While one in 20 non-Black Virginians are disenfranchised, one in seven Black Virginians are – largely because Black people are over-policed, subjected to harsher sentences and felonized at a higher rate.

The number of disenfranchised has increased year over year during the last four administrations, and individual restoration by governors is not enough. To ensure that every Virginia citizen 18 and over has the right to vote – permanently – we urge the Virginia General Assembly to take the first step to pass a constitutional amendment that guarantees that voting is a right that can never be taken away.

Please join us in supporting Senator Locke's SJ 272 to guarantee a right to vote that can never be taken away.

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1. Legislation we co-lead with other organizations

Q.Legislation we co-lead with other organizations
A.

1. End solitary confinement in Virginia prisons

Solitary confinement can cause serious lifelong psychological harm and trauma, even if a person is only held there for a short period of time. Alongside coalition partners, we are advocating for the passage of legislation to end solitary confinement in Virginia prisons.

Bill information:


2. Bring about pretrial reform

In 2020, the General Assembly rejected a number of bills aimed at reforming the pretrial detention system, including a right to legal counsel on first appearance and changing the standards for bail setting to make it easier for people who pose no threat to return home while awaiting trial. Lawmakers even rejected a bill that would have brought transparency to the blacked-out pretrial system in Virginia. We're coming back this year and working with the Virginia Pretrial Justice Coalition to pass these important reforms to Virginia's pretrial system.

Bill information

  • HB 1945 (patron: Del. Jenkins) - pretrial data and transparency
  • HB 2286 (patron: Del. Graves) - counsel at first appearance
  • SB 1266 (patron: Sen. Deeds) - eliminating presumptions against bail

3. Secure the release of people who are incarcerated during a public health crisis

Prisons, jails, and other custodial facilities are petri-dishes for the spreading of COVID-19. People who are incarcerated have virtually no way to stay socially distant and protect themselves from getting sick and dying from the pandemic. It's urgent that Virginia lawmakers listen to public health experts and pass legislation that seeks to reduce the populations behind bars and release people who pose no threat to public safety. We stand with the Virginia COVID-19 Justice Coalition and the Virginia Redemption Project in our collective effort to pass this legislation.


4. Ensure full access to reproductive healthcare for people who are incarcerated

It's our goal to pass a bill that will serve as a starting point to ensure access to a full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, including abortion, pre-and-post-natal care, and lactation support, for incarcerated people.

Bill information


5. Strengthen the Virginia Values Act

In 2020, Virginia passed the historic Virginia Values Act (VVA) and became the first southern state to have comprehensive anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. In 2021, we aim to strengthen the VVA by supporting efforts to add anti-harassment standards and close various loopholes to the VVA.

Bill information


6. Protect free speech against SLAPP lawsuits

SLAPP is an acronym for a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Virginia's lax anti-SLAPP law has led to powerful people and public officials abusing the law to silence public dissent by burdening people with expensive and time-consuming lawsuits. In 2021, we are working to pass a bill that provides for an early dismissal mechanism for defamation suits determined to be SLAPP suits.


8. Protect Virginians' right to privacy from the invasive use of ALPRs

When the police use automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) to keep records of the times and places our cars have traveled, that is a threat to our privacy. We need to revise the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act to define license plate numbers as personally identifiable information and regulate the collection and storage of data using ALPRs and potentially other technology.

2. Other legislation we support

Q.Other legislation we support
A.

End the death penalty

The death penalty is cruel, arbitrary, and has no place in a criminal justice system worthy of its name. We support abolishing the death penalty in Virginia.

Bill information


Decriminalize pregnancy outcomes and/or abortion

No one should be criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes and/or abortion.