RICHMOND (April 22, 2020) – Following Attorney General Mark Herring’s letter to Governor Northam asking for an accelerated effective date for important comprehensive reforms aimed at curbing predatory lending practices, the General Assembly has moved the effective date for these reforms up to January 2021. In his letter, Attorney General Herring asked that the effective dates for House Bill 789 (Delegate Lamont Bagby) and Senate Bill 421 (Senator Mamie Locke) be moved earlier citing the need to better protect Virginians during these difficult financial times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is great news for the many Virginians finding themselves in a tough financial situation because of COVID-19 and who may turn to small-dollar loans in order to make ends meet,” said Attorney General Herring. “These consumer lending reforms will close easily abused loopholes and provide much-needed protections for Virginia borrowers. I’m glad I was able to help get the effective date for these important bills moved up so that Virginians who take out these small-dollar loans during this difficult time can be better protected.”
The legislation tightens the rules on exploitative predatory lenders and closes easily abused loopholes so that Virginia borrowers are afforded protections regardless of the type of loan they seek. It will also give Attorney General Herring’s Predatory Lending Unit more tools to enforce these new protections and better combat predatory lenders operating in the Commonwealth.
Attorney General Herring has made it a priority to protect Virginians from predatory lenders. He created the OAG’s first Predatory Lending Unit to investigate and prosecute suspected violations of state and federal consumer lending statutes, including laws concerning payday loans, car title loans, consumer finance loans, mortgage loans, mortgage servicing, and foreclosure rescue services. The Unit also focuses on consumer education so Virginians are aware of the potential risks of these loans, as well as alternatives.
Governor Northam announces launch of Pediatric Coronavirus Serology Study
On August 13, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam announced that the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will conduct a pediatric coronavirus disease serology study in Northern Virginia. Interim results from Virginia’s ongoing adult serology study show an estimated 2.4 percent of adults statewide have antibodies to COVID-19. The new pediatric study, completed in collaboration with Inova Health System, will measure the proportion of children and teens with antibodies to COVID-19.
“The Commonwealth’s low exposure rate among adults is a testament to Virginians’ sacrifice and dedication in battling this virus,” said Governor Northam. “But as a pediatrician, I know children are often impacted by the disease in a different way than adults. These studies provide key insight into how COVID-19 spreads among different ages and demographics groups. With this information, we are one step closer to beating this virus.”
Northern Virginia was selected for this project due to the number of confirmed COVID-19 pediatric cases reported in the region. Northern Virginia’s population is also diverse in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and race, which provides an important comparison to the rest of the Commonwealth.
Inova Children’s Hospital will recruit up to 1,000 participants aged 0 – 19-years-old who live in Northern Virginia and seek care at participating clinical sites. Participants’ blood samples will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies, which indicate that a person had a COVID-19 infection in the past.
VDH will use the information collected from this project to estimate the total number of children and teenagers that have been infected with the COVID-19 virus in Northern Virginia and statewide, including those who may have had mild or asymptomatic infections. VDH will also analyze children’s risk factors for COVID-19 infection, including age, underlying health conditions, sociodemographic characteristics, history of COVID-19 infection within households, and childcare exposures. Preliminary results are expected by mid-September.
Adult Study: Interim Results
In early June, the Commonwealth launched an adult COVID-19 serology study in partnership with the University of Virginia, Inova Health System, Virginia Commonwealth University, Sentara Healthcare, and Carilion Clinic. To date, that project has enrolled 4,652 adults (93%) of the 5,000 participant goal and is ongoing.
The interim analysis, based on 3,113 participants, estimates that 2.4 percent of adults statewide have antibodies to COVID-19. By region, the estimated COVID-19 antibody prevalence is: Northern, 4.2%; Central, 3.0%; Eastern, 1.5%; Southwest, 1.0%; and Northwestern, 0.9%.
According to the study, COVID-19 antibodies are 13.1 times higher among Hispanic adults (14.4%) than non-Hispanic adults (1.1%). Adults under 50 years-old have the highest seroprevalence, while adults ages 60-69 and 70-79 have 1.0% and 1.4% seroprevalence, respectively.
Adults who reported a health condition that put them at risk for severe complications of COVID-19 infection had a lower prevalence of antibodies to COVID-19 than those without a chronic health condition (1.5% compared to 3.0%). A full report is expected at the conclusion of the study next month, September 2020.
“It’s important to recognize that more than 95% of Virginians have not yet been exposed to the COVID-19 virus and remain at risk of infection,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “Individually and collectively, all people in Virginia should continue to take preventive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth.”
AG Herring outlines priorities for criminal justice and policing reform ahead of special session
RICHMOND (August 11, 2020)—Ahead of the upcoming special session of the General Assembly, Attorney General Mark R. Herring today outlined his priorities for criminal justice and policing reforms that will reduce brutality and abuses of power by law enforcement, increase transparency, accountability, justice, and equality, and address disparities throughout the criminal justice system from policing to re-entry.
“Virginia cannot have different systems and standards of justice depending on the color of a person’s skin,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Ours must be a Commonwealth where justice, equality, and opportunity are guaranteed for each and every person, no matter where they live, what they look like, how they worship, who they love, or how much money they have.
“We know that African-Americans and Virginians of color experience the criminal justice system differently at every level from policing through prosecution and into re-entry. It is documented and undeniable. That’s a hard thing to admit, but it’s even harder to experience. It means that we are failing in one of our most foundational responsibilities as a country and a Commonwealth: to ensure that all men and women are truly treated equal.
“This moment has given us an opportunity like none I can recall in my lifetime to truly focus on how we create a criminal justice system that meets our public safety goals in a way that ensures justice and equality for all. Those of us who have been frustrated by the pace of change in previous years now have the benefit of open minds and a broader recognition of the change that is needed in this country to ensure that black lives matter and that the criminal justice system is oriented around justice and safety, not simply control or oppression.”
In the upcoming special session, Attorney General Herring will be supporting the following measures:
• Enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations
• Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training
• Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within the year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of Attorney General
• Current law enforcement officers must-have 21st-century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum
• Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession
• Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions.
• Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification.
• Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force.
• Create a “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers.
• Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics
• Empower localities to establish citizen review panels
• Require the use of body-worn cameras by all law enforcement officers
• Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions
Criminal Justice Reform:
• Cash bail reform
• Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process
• Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions
“For many months now, I have been waiting for a response from the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice to my request for an independent investigation into one of my local police departments. But for the return receipt requested signature card, I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement to my letter. If the federal government isn’t going to provide this oversight when police departments may be violating citizen’s rights, then there needs to be a state backstop that can conduct these necessary investigations. It is for these reasons, I will introduce a bill in the Special Session of the General Assembly to enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “patterns and practices investigations of local police departments,” said Senator Louise Lucas.
“Since 2017 the Trump Administration’s DOJ has refused to address systemic failures and investigate possible unconstitutional practices in law enforcement agencies. With that in mind, the Attorney General needs to have the authority to investigate and resolve patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing, such as use of excessive force, illegal searches, or biased policing,” stated Delegate Alfonso Lopez. “This legislation finally gives the Attorney General the authority to investigate, subpoena, and bring appropriate actions in court to ensure compliance with constitutional policing standards.”
In the area of police reform, Attorney General Herring will be actively working to ensure passage of the following bills and policies:
Enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices. For decades the U.S. Department of Justice was a reliable partner in identifying and ending unconstitutional policing practices, often through negotiated agreements for reforms, called “consent decrees,” in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson, MO. Under the Trump Administration the DOJ has explicitly walked away from this responsibility, making it more important for state attorneys general to have this important tool. In June, Attorney General Herring asked Congress to expand federal law to give him and other state attorneys general clear statutory authority to conduct patterns and practice investigations. The U.S House of Representatives included this authority in the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” which passed the House on June 25, 2020.
Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training to include mandatory training on implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, hate crimes, violence interruption, and other 21st-century policing skills. Because of the immense power placed in the hands of law enforcement officers, the Commonwealth must treat the law enforcement profession as a highly-skilled and specialized field that requires both proper training and high standards.
In order to ensure proper, 21st-century training for Virginia law enforcement officers:
• The Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within the year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of Attorney General that includes implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, hate crimes, violence interruption, and other 21st-century policing skills.
• Current law enforcement officers must-have 21st-century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum. In 2015, Attorney General Herring sponsored a series of five regional “train-the-trainer” conferences to promote the wider adoption of implicit bias training, de-escalation, and other 21st-century policing skills. The training officers from more than 50 law enforcement agencies participated, then went back to their departments and taught their colleagues, making this one of Virginia’s largest-ever investments in 21st century policing skills.
Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession. The Commonwealth should hold its law enforcement officers to the highest standards because they are empowered to make life-and-death decisions and other serious decisions that could dramatically affect the life of a Virginian. Virginia must, therefore, ensure that it removes from the profession any individuals who prove themselves unworthy or incapable of bearing such responsibility.
• Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions. Currently, an officer may only lose their law enforcement officer certification for a criminal conviction. Misconduct that may not rise to the level of criminal conduct must be a basis for decertifying officers.
• Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification. If an individual has proven they are not capable of exercising law enforcement authority in a safe, fair, impartial, and constitutional way, they should not be able to conceal that information from a department or simply switch departments and continue their career.
• Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force. No law enforcement officer should be able to hide behind a resignation to avoid accountability and continue their career when they have shown they may not be capable of serving in law enforcement.
• Create a legal obligation for “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers when they see another officer using excessive force when it’s safe to intervene, and regardless of intervention they must immediately report the incident to their supervisors.
• Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics like chokeholds, strangleholds, and no-knock warrants.
• Empower localities to establish citizen review panels with necessary investigative authority and, where possible, provide state-level support.
• Require the use of body-worn cameras by all law enforcement officers to ensure a complete and accurate account of any citizen-officer interactions.
• Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions on officer-involved incidents that may constitute criminal conduct, including use of force or killings by law enforcement officers.
Attorney General Herring will also be working for the passage of the following bills and policies to strengthen our communities and reduce racial and economic disparities through reform of Virginia’s criminal justice system:
• Cash bail reform. Attorney General Herring has long supported significant reforms to Virginia’s cash bail system which, in its current form, can lead to unjust outcomes where dangerous people with money can go free while nonviolent people sit in jail for days, weeks, or months because they can’t afford to pay bail. This can cause a person to lose their job, housing, and support systems. Attorney General Herring will be pushing for Virginia to move away from the use of cash bail as its default for low-level offenses and instead expand pretrial services that have proven to be effective and cheaper.
• Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process. Attorney General Herring has also advocated for expanding record expungement opportunities and simplifying the process to build a more just and fair criminal justice system and to address the disproportionate burden that criminal convictions place on African Americans and people of color. Virginia is one of the nation’s least forgiving and most restrictive states for individuals who have earned the opportunity to have old convictions and charges expunged from their records. While many other states have some form of a “Clean Slate” law, the Commonwealth appears to be one of just ten states that do not offer any sort of judicial “record closure” for any adult convictions, nor does it offer any automatic expungement for those who are eligible for expungement. This means that a relatively minor charge or conviction, like marijuana or alcohol possession, can become a permanent stain that limits a Virginian’s job, educational, and housing opportunities.
• Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions. During the 2020 General Assembly Session, Attorney General Herring helped successfully decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana but believes Virginia needs to continue on to full legal, regulated adult-use as quickly as possible because the social and human costs of prohibition fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color. In 2018, there were nearly 29,000 marijuana arrests, and the Virginia Crime Commission found that from 2007 to 2016 46% of all individuals arrested for first offense marijuana possession were African American, despite being just 20% of Virginia’s population.
In addition to these policing and criminal justice reform priorities, Attorney General Herring supports measures that require officers to deescalate situations, and to better utilize specialized resources instead of police officers to respond to non-public safety situations, such as addiction, a person experiencing homelessness, or a mental health crisis.
Virginia Supreme Court grants temporary statewide eviction moratorium
Governor Ralph Northam today, August 7, 2020, announced a temporary statewide moratorium on eviction proceedings in Virginia. The moratorium, which will begin on Monday, August 10, and remains in effect through Monday, September 7, halts all eviction proceedings related to failure to pay rent. Governor Northam requested this moratorium in a letter to Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Lemons on July 24.
“Today’s decision comes at a time when we are still battling this public health crisis and need all Virginians to maintain safe, stable housing,” said Governor Northam. “As the ongoing Congressional stalemate leaves hundreds of thousands of Virginians without federal housing protection or unemployment relief, this is a critical step towards keeping families safe in their homes. I am grateful to the Virginia Supreme Court for granting this order, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly this month to develop more permanent legislative protections for Virginia homeowners and tenants.”
On June 29, Governor Northam launched the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP), which provides an initial $50 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for Virginia households facing eviction and foreclosure due to COVID-19. Eligibility and application information for the RMRP is available here.
Tenants are encouraged to know their rights and responsibilities and pay their rent on time if they are able. Please visit StayHomeVirginia.com for additional information and resources on tenant rights.
Governor Northam’s letter to Chief Justice Lemons requesting this moratorium is available here. Today’s order from the Virginia Supreme Court can be found here.
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – August 5, 2020; rapid testing, Tropical Storm Isaias, restrictions in Hampton Roads area
Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response. Here are the highlights:
- COVID-Wise app to send alerts to those who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The app is free, and voluntary, to download and use.
- Joining 7 states to expand the use of rapid antigen testing.
- Feds to continue to fund the majority of the National Guard’s presence in Virginia in response to both COVID-19 and tropical storms such as Isaias.
- Increased restrictions remain in place in the Hampton Roads area.
- Case counts have begun to slowly rise throughout most of Virginia, with a sharp rise in the Eastern Region. Seeing about 1,000 new cases per day, which is similar to the number of new cases per day at the peak. Averaging, statewide, between 15,000 and 20,000 tests per day. Statewide percent positivity is 7.2%.
Supreme Court of Virginia denies appeals by Goodwin and Ramos for their role in the beating of Deandre Harris during Unite the Right Rally
Attorney General Mark R. Herring and his team have again successfully defended the convictions of two men who were convicted of malicious wounding for their roles in the beating of Deandre Harris in a Charlottesville parking garage during the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally. The Supreme Court of Virginia denied Jacob Scott Goodwin’s petition for appeal today and denied Alex Michael Ramos’ petition for appeal in early May.
“The violence, mayhem, injury, and death caused at the hands of the racists and white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville for the Unite the Right rally can never be forgotten, but we can make sure that the individuals who broke the law or incited violence are brought to justice,” said Attorney General Herring. “My team and I will do everything in our power to combat this white supremacist violence that we continue to see in the Commonwealth, and I will not hesitate to hold these racists and white supremacists accountable when they act on their hate.”
In each of the opinions denying the appeals, the Supreme Court of Virginia said, “Upon review of the record in this case and consideration of the argument submitted in support of the granting of an appeal, the Court refuses the petition for appeal.”
Goodwin was sentenced to serve eight years in prison and Ramos was sentenced to serve six years for their roles in the beating of Deandre Harris.
Virginia State Police urging travel safety during tropical storm
As the Virginia State Police prepares for Tropical Storm Isaias, Virginians are encouraged to get ready and plan ahead, too. Forecasts are currently calling for the eastern and central regions of the Commonwealth to be significantly impacted by heavy rains and strong winds.
Virginia State Police have all available troopers and supervisors working through the night and Tuesday as the storm makes its way across the Commonwealth. To prevent unnecessary traffic crashes from occurring on Virginia’s highways during the storm, state police advises residents to postpone travel plans and avoid driving, when possible.
If having to travel during the storm, drivers are reminded to do the following:
- Slow your speed. Though state police works closely with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to identify problem areas on Virginia’s highways during a storm, drivers still must drive for conditions. Slowing your speed gives you more time to safely react and avoid a crash, downed trees and/or debris in the roadway. Drive your vehicle based on your ability to properly maintain control of your vehicle.
- Turn Around. Don’t Drown. Never drive through standing water. What looks like a puddle can be deep and swift-moving water. Turn around and find another, safer route to your destination.
- Don’t tailgate. You need increased stopping distance on wet road surfaces. Give yourself more space between vehicles traveling ahead of you in order to avoid rear end collisions.
- Use headlights. Increasing your visibility helps you to avoid standing water and/or flooding. Headlights also help other drivers see you better, especially in a downpour when visibility is limited.
- Buckle Up. Most crashes that occur during inclement weather are caused by vehicles sliding off the road or other vehicles. Wearing your seat belt protects you from being thrown around the inside of your vehicle and suffering serious injury in a crash.
- Put down your phone. Having to drive in heavy rain requires a driver’s full, uninterrupted attention. Do not text and drive or shoot video of the bad conditions while driving, as these actions put you, your passengers and other vehicles at extreme risk of a crash and/or injury.
- Check Your Vehicle. Make sure your vehicle is in good working order for the conditions. Fill up the tank in advance. Check windshield wipers, tire tread, battery life, etc.
For the latest in road conditions and updates, please call 511 on a cell phone, download the App or go online to the VDOT Virginia Traffic Information Website at www.511virginia.org.
Virginians are advised to only call 911 or #77 on a cell phone in case of emergency. It is essential to keep emergency dispatch lines open for those in serious need of police, fire or medical response.