Criminal justice reform moving through legislature; Admission reform at gov’s schools tabled

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A number of bills have passed both houses of the General Assembly and await final passage after clearing a conference committee.

State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) highlighted several of the bills on Sunday, Feb. 21.

Legalization of marijuana — HB2312 and SB1406 — are under discussion. Some of the details yet to be ironed out between the two bills include licensing and distribution, Morrissey said.

HB2047 would make a defendant’s mental health condition available at trial. Currently, state law only allows for an insanity declaration, which Morrissey described as an all-or-nothing approach.

Other bills that could be signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) include the following:

HB2263 would abolish the death penalty;

HB2331 would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences;

HB1821 would prohibit arrests for persons who report drug overdoses;

HB1936 would create four levels of punishment for robbery.

Morrissey said that six conferees from the Senate and House are working to come to an agreement in regard to two expungement bills. Details in discussion include whether or not one would need to petition for such or if it would be automatic after having a clean record for a certain number of years. What misdemeanors and felonies would be included is also an issue.

Racial quotas? 

Several Democrat senators, including John Edwards of Roanoke, Lynwood Lewis of the Eastern Shore and Dick Saslaw and Chap Peterson of Fairfax — torpedoed a bill (HB2305) on Feb. 18 that sought to add more black and Hispanic students to the 20 governor’s schools.

Some opponents of the bill say it would create racial and ethnic quotas.

According to the Virginia Mercury, Peterson said the bill has “become a lightning rod and it’s been serving to stigmatize a very hard-working community in Fairfax County which I am proud to represent and be married into. And that’s the Korean community, Indian community, Bengali community.”

Saslaw said his constituents were “overwhelmingly against” the legislation. “Many of these are parents — a large percentage — who came here as immigrants and have done anything they can to improve their situation,” he said, as reported by the online news organization. “They consider this bill highly offensive.”

Robert N. Barnette Jr, president of the state NAACP, accused Saslaw and Peterson of making “disparaging remarks aligned with racial inferiority of Virginia’s Black students.” Continuing, Barnette said, “Peterson insinuated that there aren’t more Black students in Virginia’s Governor’s School program because Black students don’t focus on their academics. Sadly … Saslaw’s comments were no better. In addition to lumping together Latinos and Black students, he insinuated that Black and Latino students hadn’t done everything they could to improve their situations.”

Saslaw motioned to table the bill indefinitely in the Senate Education and Health Committee. The motion passed 9-6. One Republican, Todd Pinion of Abingdon, voted no.

Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) — an immigrant from India — motioned that the bill go to the Senate floor prior to Saslaw’s motion to table.

The bill was sponsored by Del. Rosyln Tyler (D-Sussex). It passed the House 58-41 with several Republicans voting in favor, including Carrie Coyner of Chesterfield, John Avoli of Staunton and James Edmunds of Halifax.

Other bills

HB1965 would establish California’s tougher emission standards in Virginia and become effective Jan. 1, 2024. It would require vehicle manufacturers to offer about 8 percent of their vehicles as electric and gradually increase that number each year. If approved, Virginia would join the 14 states plus Washington, D.C., that use the California standard for either low-emission or no-emission vehicles.

SB1387 would give persons living in the state illegally the benefit of state financial or school-issued aid and tuition assistance grants. The bill passed the Senate 21-18 on a party line vote and 58-44 in the House with support of three Republicans, including Chesterfield’s Carrie Coyner and Roxann Robinson and Virginia Beach’s Glenn Davis, the latter who is one of five Republicans running for lieutenant governor.

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