Richmond, VA -- The ACLU of Virginia today released its 2014 General Assembly Session policy priorities by hand-delivery to all legislator offices.
“As a new legislative session begins, it is important that everyone remains vigilant in protecting the rights and liberties that we all hold so dear,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga.  “We are eager to work with legislators to advance our shared belief in democracy.”
The organization has prioritized several legislative initiatives that will advance the civil rights and liberties of all Virginians with no budgetary impact or with favorable impact on the budget or the Virginia economy.
“Our agenda is simple,” said Director of Public Policy and Communications Frank Knaack. “It is about constitutional principles, evidence-based solutions, and basic fairness; it’s one that all legislators should support.”
Policy priorities include:
  • Smart on Crime
    • Reduce Incarceration for Minor Offenses - Support an increase in the felony larceny threshold.  The legislature set a $200 threshold in 1980 and has not adjusted it since.  Adjusted for inflation, the current threshold would be approximately $565.  A majority of states have set their felony larceny threshold at $1000 or more, including South Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina.  Adjusting the threshold would not increase theft or harm public safety, but would save Virginia taxpayers millions annually.
    • Reform the Civil Sex Offender Registry - Oppose any expansion of the civil sex offender registry, and ensure that individuals who successfully petition for a writ of actual innocence are removed from the registry automatically.  Support continued judicial discretion to determine whether a juvenile must register as a sex offender, as they are privy to the unique facts and circumstances of each case.
  • School to Prison Pipeline
    • Ensure Evidence-Based Solutions to School Safety and Discipline Concerns - Oppose the mandatory deployment of school resource officers (SROs) in all Virginia public schools.  Virginia does not collect data on the arrests and referrals made by SROs in Virginia’s schools.  Furthermore, SROs are not required to have specialized training for interacting with youth.  This basic information and training is vital to determining if SROs are being safely and effectively deployed, and should be mandated before any discussion occurs regarding the use of SROs in Virginia schools.  Legislators should focus on increasing funding for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, an evidence-based program that has been shown to make our schools safer and more effective.
  • Equality
    • Prohibit Discrimination in Public Employment - Support legislation to protect state and local workers from discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital status, veterans’ status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.  Currently, some state workers are protected by a state executive order and by federal law.  LGBT state workers are, however, only protected by an executive order that does not have the force of law.  Codifying these protections would better protect all Virginians from discrimination in the workplace.
    • Provide Tuition Equity - Support legislation that would make undocumented students who meet certain requirements (included required graduation from Virginia schools, residency and tax payment) eligible to apply for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges.  Tuition equity would provide our economy with an increased tax base and our businesses with more well-trained workers.  It’s fundamentally fair and economically just.
  • Privacy
    • Ensure 21st Century Privacy - Support efforts to ensure that: 1) law enforcement and regulatory agencies  obtain criminal or administrative  warrants before using privacy intrusive technologies such as  drones, GPS surveillance, automatic license plate readers, or  other surveillance technology to acquire information on individuals and businesses; 2) agencies using surveillance technology keep records and submit annual, publicly available reports regarding how, when, why, and where the technology was used;  3) local and state legislative bodies approve the use of privacy intrusive technologies  before they can be purchased by agencies under their jurisdiction and adopt written policies and procedures for agencies using surveillance technology; and 4) law enforcement cannot bank data collected via surveillance technology without an individualized need.  Warrantless surveillance of law-abiding residents and limitless collection of our personal data have no place in Virginia.
    • Challenge Mandatory and Suspicionless Drug Testing - Oppose mandatory drug testing for public assistance when no individualized suspicion exists.  Suspicionless drug testing for benefits is unconstitutional, wastes scarce tax dollars, and disproportionately impacts people of color. 
  • Reproductive Freedom
    • Ensure Access to Reproductive Health Care - Support efforts to ensure that insurance can provide coverage for abortion and that women are not required to have an ultrasound before abortion.  Oppose efforts that position Virginia to restrict access to birth control.  Health care decisions should be between a woman, her family, and her doctor, not politicians.
  • Voting Rights
    • Protect the Right to Vote - Oppose efforts to mandate proof of citizenship at the ballot that could impose insurmountable burdens on registered voters.  More than 13 million Americans or over 388,000 Virginians do not have ready access to proof of their citizenship-including married women who have changed their names or low-income citizens.  Rather than stopping non-citizens from attempting to vote illegally, this legislation would prevent American citizens exercising their fundamental right to vote.
    • Restore the Right to Vote - Support an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia that would repeal the current lifetime ban on voting for all felons.  Despite Governor McDonnell efforts to restore the right to vote for many felons, more than 300,000 Virginians continue to be denied this fundamental right.  It’s time to finally remove this relic of Jim Crow era Virginia.
  • Religious Freedom
    • Oppose any legislation that undercuts the important role that a neutral government plays in ensuring religious freedom. Support legislation that affirms that general laws on health, safety and other legitimate matters of government concern are not prohibited by the First Amendment.  As Justice Scalia has said, it is “precisely because we value and protect … religious divergence" that such general laws are allowed.
“Protecting civil rights and liberties in the Commonwealth is the responsibility of all Virginians,” said Gastañaga.  “Not only are we eager to work with legislators to ensure continued protection of these rights, we are also excited to engage with our grassroots advocates from across the state who will stand in support of these policy priorities by contacting their legislators and telling them to support these priorities.”