By Ameenah Habib, public policy intern

To be in a room full of people that you can count on to support your rights and the rights of those around you is a wonderful feeling. This was the atmosphere at the 2020 Legislative Forum, hosted by the ACLU of Virginia and its Northern Virginia chapter. It felt like a family of people coming together, ready to help one another incite the change they believe in so strongly.

This legislative session, the ACLU of Virginia is focused on expanding voting rights and reforming the criminal legal system.

We started the morning off by talking about all the important criminal reforms that need to be passed. Firstly, the legalization of marijuana. Only one in five Virginians are Black but 49% of those charged with first offense marijuana possession are Black. Next, we discussed solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is inhumane and needs to be prohibited. Members of Virginia’s Coalition Against Solitary Confinement spoke on legislation that will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session. Next, we discussed reformation of the pretrial system; 46% of people in jails in Virginia have not been convicted of a crime. Lastly, we would like to reform the current felony larceny laws by increasing the threshold to at least $1,500 and doing away with the three-strike petit larceny statute.

It felt like a family of people coming together, ready to help one another incite the change they believe in so strongly.

Later in the afternoon, we moved on to discussing voting rights legislation for the next session. The ACLU-VA would like to pass a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to vote to all citizens and Virginia residents over 18. Virginia is one of only three states that permanently disenfranchises citizens who are convicted of a felony. Lastly, we would like to pass same-day voter registration and a true no-excuse voting bill that removes the limits on absentee voting. Absentee voting limitations disproportionately affects voters in rural areas and lower income individuals.

So, what can you do to help us accomplish these goals? Take action!

Contact your elected officials and establish relationships with them so you can make long-lasting change. See our Lobby Guide for more information on how to advocate for issues you care about.

A special thanks to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington for co-sponsoring and hosting the event at their church.

And a special thanks to all our partners:

  • RIHD
  • Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations
  • Equality Loudoun
  • Interfaith Action for Human Rights
  • RISE for Youth
  • Legal Aid Justice Center
  • House of Dreams
  • Humanization Project
  • League of Women Voters of Virginia