The 2022 legislative session is officially over and if you'd like to see where things ended up, you can view and interact with our 2022 General Assembly End-of-Session Report.
Below, you'll see the status of our priorities at the halfway point of the legislative session.
Here are the key dates you need to know:
- Tuesday, February 15 - crossover began (when the House and the Senate trade bills they passed with each other)
- Thursday, March 10 - last day to act on remaining bills
- Saturday, March 12 - session adjourns
- Monday, April 11 - last day for the Governor to take action on legislation
Our top priorities for the 2022 General Assembly session post-crossover are:
- Guarantee the right to vote for Virginians with felony convictions
- Allow a "second look" for people who are incarcerated with excessive sentences
- Block any legislation that would restrict abortion access
- End profiteering in Virginia's prisons and jails
- Prevent religion from being used as a license to discriminate
- End solitary confinement
People who have served their sentences and paid taxes deserve a chance to choose the people who represent them. It's time for a change and it's time for a second chance. Broadening the electorate to as many people as possible is a huge step toward eliminating the vestiges of Jim Crow that remain in the Virginia constitution.
Proposed legislation: In 2021, lawmakers passed the Right to Vote amendment for the first time. To amend the Constitution of Virginia, though, identical legislation must pass again in 2022. HJ 9/SJ 1 are the 2022 editions, and these bills would place the decision to guarantee the right to vote to every Virginian 18 and over not currently serving time for a felony conviction in the hands of Virginia's voters during the 2022 elections. A recent polling conducted by the Beacon Research Group showed that 65% of Virginians believe that once a person has served their time, they should have the right to vote. Our democracy is stronger and our communities are safer when more people are allowed to participate in it.
Status: The bill to send the Right to Vote amendment to Virginia’s voters passed the Virginia Senate with bipartisan support. We are pleased that lawmakers in the Senate see the value of enshrining the right to vote for people who have served their time in the Constitution of Virginia so that it cannot be taken away at the whims of the executive office. While we know that this bill has support in the House of Delegates, the battle is not won yet and it will be hard fought. We hope that lawmakers will choose to send this amendment to Virginia’s voters.
Problem: People who have served time for felony convictions are not guaranteed the right to vote under Virginia's constitution, meaning that over 250,000 Virginians are barred from the ballot box as an additional punishment to being incarcerated. Lawmakers in 1902 purposefully and consciously banned anyone convicted of a felony from voting to suppress the Black vote, knowing that Black people were – and would continue to be – disproportionately criminalized.
People who have used their incarceration to rehabilitate deserve the chance to return home and become full participants in their community.
Proposed legislation: SB 378 would allow people with unnecessarily long sentences to request a review of their sentence after serving 10 - 15 years in prison depending on the age at which they were convicted and give judges the power to consider shorter sentences for rehabilitated people.
Status: Virginia Senators from both sides of the aisle supported this legislation that allows people who are incarcerated to ask the court to review their case and potentially shorten their sentence. We are pleased our lawmakers are interested in creating a pathway to early release for people serving excessively long sentences and are hopeful this legislation will be approved by the House and sent to the Governor.
Problem: Too many people are locked up for far too long across Virginia. Despite research demonstrating that people "age out" of crime after ten years, over 4,000 people are serving a life sentence in Virginia's prisons - approximately 14% (one in seven) of the state's prison population. The Commonwealth's highly restrictive post-conviction relief systems have left incarcerated people serving extreme sentences with limited to no opportunity to return to their communities any sooner. This exacerbates our mass incarceration crisis, keeps families apart, and doesn't keep anyone safer. Extreme sentencing disproportionately impacts communities of color, as Black people are criminalized more often and receive harsher sentences than white Virginians.
Abortion is a medical decision best left to a person and their doctor. Abortion restrictions and barriers to reproductive care severely impede a pregnant person's ability to make decisions about their lives and futures and restrict their right to privacy. When our lawmakers try to determine when, how, and why a person can qualify for an abortion, it's about control, not facts.
Proposed legislation: HB 212 to require "informed consent" (medically unnecessary counseling for anyone seeking an abortion) and HB 304, A "Born Alive" bill that would take away someone's ability to make heartbreaking but necessary decisions for their family.
Status: Lawmakers in the Virginia House passed both pieces of legislation. The Virginia Senate should recognize the harmful barriers bill like these create like these are to abortion access and keep this legislation from moving forward and becoming law.
Problem: In 2022, Virginia lawmakers introduced several pieces of legislation to roll back abortion access in Virginia. Egregious proposals like the 20-week abortion ban failed, but two survived: an "informed consent" bill and a "born alive" bill. Neither of these bills is rooted in fact - informed consent is already required of medical practitioners in Virginia and doctors already have to do everything they can to save lives. We'll be clear - these bills aren't about protecting health. They're about restricting access to abortion.
No one deserves to be exploited for profit, especially not the families of people who are incarcerated who are just trying to talk to their loved ones and ensure they have what they need.
Proposed legislation: SB 581 and HB 1053: to reduce profiteering in Virginia's jails/SB 441 and HB 665 to reduce profiteering in Virginia's prisons and reduce costs incurred by people who are incarcerated and their families. These bills are "study bills," meaning that they will be studied throughout the year and brought back for consideration in the 2023 legislative session.
Status: All four bills passed their original chambers with virtually unanimous and crossed over to the other, where they are likely to see similar support. We are glad to see our lawmakers have taken this step to address price-gouging in our prisons and jails.
Problem: Virginia's jails and prisons charge exorbitant prices for calls, emails, and commissary items, forcing people who are incarcerated and their families to sometimes pay double or more for what services and products are actually worth. Virginia's jails and prisons justify these prices by claiming profits are used to fund programming they couldn't afford otherwise, but the most recent Commonwealth of Virginia Jail Cost Report showed that for some jails, a majority of funds collected go nowhere near programming. Exploiting families of incarcerated people for profit and then not even using the funds to their intended use is criminal.
No one should be discriminated against nor denied services because of someone else's religious beliefs.
Proposed legislation: HB 753 would allow faith-based entities to be exempt from the provisions of the Virginia Human Rights Act and use their religion as an excuse to discriminate.
Status: The Virginia House moved this horrific piece of legislation forward and we urge the Virginia Senate to vote no and stop it in its tracks.
Problem: Religious freedom in America means that we all have a right to our religious beliefs, but this does not give us the right to use our religion to discriminate against and impose those beliefs on others who do not share them. This bill eliminates protections for LGBTQ+ people and other vulnerable groups in public accommodations, employment, and housing and essentially gives religious institutions license to discriminate. It's unacceptable and wrong.
People sentenced to a prison term are not sentenced to solitary confinement. The practice of isolating people in a cell the size of a parking spot for over 20 hours a day is barbaric and cruel, and it has no place in Virginia.
Proposed legislation: SB 108 would issue a ban on the use of solitary confinement (and any other names it's called) within the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Status: This bill passed through the Senate and is now with the House. We hope lawmakers in the House will take action to codify this ban into law and protect people who are incarcerated from this torturous practice.
Problem: Solitary confinement is torture and a violation of human rights. Despite VDOC's claims they have ended the practice, we are told every day by incarcerated people that the practice is still widely used in Virginia prisons. Without independent oversight, we have no way to verify VDOC’s claims beyond what they self-report.
We are proud to work with the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement to end this barbaric practice.
Bills we supported that did not advance:
- SB 104 to end mandatory minimums: Mandatory minimums prescribe a one-size-fits-all punishment even though circumstances may vary greatly. Largely due to mandatory minimums, people accused of crimes are often coerced by prosecutors into pleading guilty and taking plea agreements for fear of getting harsher sentences if they pursue their cases in court, even if they are innocent. More Black and Brown people receive mandatory minimums than white people - 41% of Black people in Virginia’s prisons are serving mandatory sentences while only 26% of white people are. A full repeal of mandatory minimum sentences is a step closer to guaranteeing fair sentencing practices for people in Virginia.
- HB 655 to establish independent oversight for the Virginia Department of Corrections: The Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) is reportedly rampant with human rights abuses. Officials lie about their practices and outcomes, cover up their abuses, retaliate against people who try to report abuse, and prevent family members, attorneys, and journalists from seeing what goes on behind closed doors. They rarely face consequences for their actions, so they continue to act with impunity. Establishing an independent oversight agency would lead to greater transparency and accountability for the department.
- HB 612/SB 411 to defelonize drug possession: Prosecuting small-scale drug possession as a felony does not tackle the root problems of substance use disorder or drug trafficking. Researchers have found no relationship between imprisonment rates and rates of drug use, overdose deaths, or arrests for drug law violations. Instead, treating drug possession as a felony saddles everyday Virginians with criminal records that prevent them from securing employment, housing, and education. 76% of Virginians support eliminating criminal penalties for minor possession and treating drug use as a health issue, according to a poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling. Changing simple possession of Schedule I and II drugs from a Class 5 felony to a Class 1 misdemeanor would reduce the criminalization of people with substance use disorder and generate savings that can be invested in more effective community-based treatment programs.
- HB 369/SB 475 to ensure a lawyer from a person's first court appearance: While all people who are accused of a crime should have a right to a lawyer from the very beginning; for many, that right is not a reality. It's been proven that people who make a first appearance without legal representation are more likely to be jailed pretrial and risk losing their jobs, homes, and custody of their childrenn; resulting in negative short and long-term outcomes. This bill would ensure that a person has a lawyer from the get-go when they enter the criminal legal system
Although these issues won’t be addressed by the General Assembly in 2022, we will continue our work on each in the hopes that 2023 will be different.
Bills we oppose that advanced:
- SB 739 to lift the mask mandate in Virginia's public schools: We believe all students, regardless of who they are or where they live, should be able to go to school in person and receive the support and services they need to be successful. Virginia schools have a legal obligation to educate and accommodate students with disabilities, including those students with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. By not allowing accommodations for students with disabilities, Senate Bill 739 violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- HB 787 to ban the teaching of "divisive concepts" in Virginia's public schools: Virginia students deserve to learn all of our history, free from censorship or discrimination. This bill seeks to ban the teaching of "divisive concepts," such as Jim Crow laws or the three-fifths rule. This kind of classroom censorship is hurtful to ALL students in the Commonwealth.
With one month left ‘til bills head to Governor Youngkin’s desk, we’ll keep fighting to move Virginia forward, not backward. We’ll work with lawmakers across the aisle to stop bad bills and advance good bills. We’ll remind the General Assembly of their obligation to work for ALL Virginians, not just a few. And no matter what happens, we’ll be here, ready to act.