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Herring’s legislative package helps make 2020 most progressive legislative session in Virginia history

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Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s legislative package for the 2020 General Assembly session has helped make this the most progressive legislative session in Virginia history. Attorney General Herring’s package includes bills that will make Virginia’s criminal justice system more fair, just, and equal; protect vulnerable communities; protect Virginia consumers; make Virginia an even more open and welcoming community; and more.

“I have been fighting for these measures and reforms for years, even when we had Republican majorities blocking our every move. This year, with a new Democratic majority, we finally saw these real, progressive changes come to fruition in Virginia,” said Attorney General Herring. “With things like decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, we are creating a fairer criminal justice system for all Virginians. We passed comprehensive consumer protection legislation so that Virginians do not have to fear to fall into a cycle of debt and high-interest rates when taking out certain loans. Vulnerable communities can now feel more confident that their state and their elected officials are behind them and ready to protect them.

“Virginians voted in November for gun violence prevention and we were finally able to deliver. Too many Virginians have lost their lives to guns but Republicans have been okay with that status quo for too long. The Commonwealth is now a safer place because of commonsense gun safety measures like reinstating one handgun a month, a red flag law, and universal background checks.

“I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate for helping pass my priorities for this year’s session. And we’re just getting started.”

Criminal Justice
The General Assembly passed House Bill 972 (Delegate Charniele Herring) and Senate Bill 2 (Senator Adam Ebbin) that will decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

“For far too long our approach to cannabis has needlessly saddled Virginians, especially African Americans and people of color, with criminal records. Those days are over,” said Attorney General Herring. With this historic vote, we are making Virginia a more fair, just, equal, and progressive place. Decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path towards legal, regulated adult use, and one many thought was still years away, but we cannot stop now. We’ve shown that smart, progressive reform is possible and we must keep going.

“I want to thank my colleagues in the House and the Senate for helping me to make this issue a top priority and I look forward to watching the progress Virginia continues to make in the coming years.”

Attorney General Herring has become the leader on cannabis reform in Virginia following his call for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, action to address past convictions, and a move towards legal and regulated adult use. In his call for cannabis reform, he cited the unnecessary negative impact of a criminal conviction for possession, the expense and social costs of enforcing the current system, and the disparate impact on African Americans and people and communities of color. In December 2019, Attorney General Herring held a cannabis summit for policymaking stakeholders in Virginia that focused on policy and included experts from attorneys generals’ offices, state agencies, and legislative operations in states that have legalized cannabis, as well as cannabis policy experts.

Protecting Vulnerable Communities
The General Assembly passed Attorney General Herring’s package of legislation that will better protect Virginians and vulnerable communities from hate crimes and white supremacist violence. The bills will update the Commonwealth’s definition of a hate crime, protect Virginians from violence and intimidation by hate groups and white supremacists, and make it harder for hate groups and white supremacists to threaten, intimidate, or hurt Virginians with firearms.

Additionally, the General Assembly passed House Bill 6 (Delegate Jeff Bourne) that added discrimination on the basis of a person’s income to the list of unlawful discriminatory housing practices and House Bill 1663 (Delegate Mark Sickles) that creates explicit causes of action for unlawful discrimination in public housing and employment under the Virginia Human Rights Act.

The General Assembly also passed House Bill 704 (Delegate Mark Keam) that provides that there will be a policy in Virginia that promotes environmental justice.

“It is so important to make sure that vulnerable communities in Virginia know that their state and their elected officials stand with them, ready to protect them, their families, and their fundamental rights,” said Attorney General Herring. “It is really gratifying to finally have my hate crimes and white-supremacist violence legislation passed after years of inaction by Republicans in the General Assembly.

“Preventing discrimination in both housing and unemployment, as well as making sure that there are policies in place that promote environmental justice in Virginia are all crucial to building stronger and more inclusive communities and I am proud to have been able to help get this important legislation passed.”

Attorney General Herring’s hate crimes and white supremacist violence legislative package is below:

Updating Virginia’s definition of “hate crime”: This bill will create protections against hate crimes committed on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. (House Bill 618 Delegate Ken Plum)

Empowering the Attorney General to prosecute hate crimes: This bill will allow the Attorney General to prosecute hate crimes through the Commonwealth’s network of multijurisdictional grand juries. (House Bill 787 Delegate Lamont Bagby)

Prohibiting Paramilitary Activity: This bill will further restrict the kind of paramilitary activity by white supremacist militias and similar groups that were seen in Charlottesville in August 2017 (Senate Bill 64 Senator Louise Lucas)

Firearms at Permitted Events: This bill authorizes communities to ban firearms in a public space during a permitted event or an event that would otherwise require a permit. (Senate Bill 35 Senator Scott Surovell)

Protecting Virginia Consumers
This year, Attorney General Herring supported two bills (House Bill 789 Delegate Lamont Bagby and Senate Bill 421 Senator Mamie Locke) that were passed by the General Assembly that will enact comprehensive predatory lending reforms in Virginia. 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 also supported House Bill 1553 (Delegate Rodney Willett) that will further protect Virginia borrowers by putting tighter restrictions and regulations on debt settlement service providers.

“This much needed comprehensive legislation tightens the rules on exploitative predatory lenders and closes easily abused loopholes so that Virginia borrowers are afforded the same protections regardless of the type of loan they seek,” said Attorney General Herring. “Virginia borrowers deserve to be protected from bad actors in every phase of the loan process from taking out a loan to paying that loan back.”

Firearms on School Property
Attorney General Herring’s bill House Bill 1080 (Delegate Patrick Hope) further clarifies that only trained, authorized individuals may carry a gun at schools. This bill follows an opinion Attorney General Herring put out that concluded that schools could not designate just anyone as a special conservator of the peace and allow them to carry a firearm on school property.

“Our kids deserve a safe, secure learning environment when they come to school, and adding guns and armed, unqualified personnel to our classrooms is incompatible with that goal,” said Attorney General Herring. “The last thing we need to be doing is putting more guns in schools and in the hands of unqualified, untrained people. I hope all of us who care about the safety and success of our students can continue working together to make our schools safe and welcoming places for our young people to learn.”

In-State Tuition for DREAMers
In 2014, Attorney General Herring sent a letter to the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, the presidents of Virginia’s colleges and universities, and the chancellor of the Virginia Community College System advising that Virginia students who are lawfully present in the United States under DACA quality for in-state tuition.

This year, Attorney General Herring’s bill House Bill 1547 (Delegate Alfonso Lopez) further clarifies that any student is eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of citizenship status, as long as they have fulfilled the necessary requirements.

“Every student, regardless of their citizenship status, deserves in-state tuition in their own home state,” said Attorney General Herring. “Clarifying this in Virginia code will give DREAMers and other students the peace of mind that their right to in-state tuition is now protected by law and no one will ever be able to deny them higher education.”

Driver’s License Suspension
Attorney General worked with the General Assembly this year to ensure that there was a permanent fix that ended Virginia’s license suspension policy and strongly supported Senate Bill 1 (Senator Stanley).

“No one should be punished with a suspended license just because they cannot immediately afford to pay their fines,” said Attorney General Herring. “This was bad policy from the beginning that disproportionately affected minority communities and I’m glad that we were able to change it.”

Confederate Monuments
Attorney General Herring has pushed for legislation that will give localities the ability to remove, relocate, or contextualize Confederate monuments and statues and Senate Bill 183 (Senator Mamie Locke) will do just that.

“These grand, heroic Confederate monuments represent oppression and injustice to so many in our Commonwealth and limit a community’s ability to tell its own story,” said Attorney General Herring. “Giving communities the ability to remove or contextualize these monuments is an important step on Virginia’s path to becoming an even more open and welcoming community.”

Marriage Records
Last fall, Attorney General Herring sent a memo to clerks of court around Virginia explaining that state law “does not require a clerk to refuse to issue a marriage license when the applicant declines to identify his or her race and that clerks should issue a license regardless of an applicant’s answer or non-answer to that inquiry.” Along with the memo, clerks also received a newly updated marriage license form that gave applicants the option to decline to answer a question about the applicant’s race.

Since issuing the memo, Attorney General Herring has been advocating to have the question about an applicant’s race removed from the marriage license application altogether. House Bill 180 (Delegate Mark Levine) removes all requirements that an individual’s race be included on any kind of marriage record, divorce report, or annulment report.

“It was never clear why the inclusion of the applicant’s race was necessary on any of these records and forms,” said Attorney General Herring. “I am pleased that we were initially able to find a solution by changing the forms and we now have legislation that will change this in state code.”

Protecting Animals
Attorney General Herring has made it a priority to strengthen enforcement of animal cruelty and other animal-related crimes. This year, he supported Senate Bill 114 (Senator David Marsden) that will put certain animal care statutes under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, which will give the Office of the Attorney General even more tools to protect animals.

In 2015, Attorney General Herring created the nation’s first OAG Animal Law Unit to serve as a training and prosecution resource for state agencies, investigators, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys around the state dealing with matters involving animal fighting, cruelty, and welfare. Illegal animal fighting is closely tied to illegal gambling, drug, and alcohol crimes, and violence against animals has been shown to be linked to violence towards other people.

“People who abuse or kill animals are truly disgusting individuals, and oftentimes these kinds of crimes can lead to other serious crimes as well,” said Attorney General Herring. “I am extremely proud of the work my Animal Law Unit has done to crack down on animal cruelty and abuse and I am pleased that we now have even more tools at our disposal to go after these heinous crimes.”

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Virginia Supreme Court grants temporary statewide eviction moratorium

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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.

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – August 5, 2020; rapid testing, Tropical Storm Isaias, restrictions in Hampton Roads area

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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%.
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Supreme Court of Virginia denies appeals by Goodwin and Ramos for their role in the beating of Deandre Harris during Unite the Right Rally

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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.

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Virginia State Police urging travel safety during tropical storm

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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.

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Governor Northam declares State of Emergency in advance of Hurricane Isaias

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Governor Ralph Northam today declared a state of emergency in advance of Hurricane Isaias, which is expected to impact parts of coastal Virginia starting on Monday, August 3, 2020.

“Hurricane Isaias is a serious storm, and current predictions indicate that it may impact parts of Virginia as early as this weekend,” said Governor Northam. “This state of emergency will ensure localities and communities have the assistance they need to protect the safety of Virginians, particularly as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. I encourage Virginians to take all necessary precautions, monitor local weather forecasts, and stay alert.”

A state of emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and equipment needed for response and recovery efforts. While the track of Hurricane Isaias is still uncertain, it appears increasingly likely that Virginia could see impacts and therefore must prepare for the possibility of flooding, high winds, and potential storm surge that could come along with a tropical storm or hurricane.

Virginians are encouraged to consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines preparedness, response, and recovery actions designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and protect public health.

The Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) is actively monitoring the situation and coordinating resources and information to prepare for this storm. The Virginia Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) will coordinate preparedness efforts with local, state, and federal officials.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Nine is available here.

Recommendations for Virginians

• Know your zone. Evacuation may become necessary depending on the track and severity of the storm. Review Virginia’s evacuation zones at KnowYourZoneVA.org. It is important to note that the zone colors have been updated for 2020. Users can enter their physical address in the search bar of the website to view and confirm their designated evacuation zone. If the internet or computer access is not available, call 2-1-1 to learn your zone. Residents not residing in a pre-identified evacuation zone should listen to evacuation orders from local and state emergency agencies to determine if and when to evacuate.

• Make a plan. Virginians residing in eastern and coastal Virginia should consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines ways to prepare for both weather and pandemic-related risks. Additional planning resources are available at ready.gov/plan.

• Prepare an emergency kit. For a list of recommended emergency supplies to sustain your household before, during, and after the storm visit VAemergency.gov/emergency-kit. Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, emergency kits should include face coverings and sanitization supplies.

• Stay informed. Virginians should follow the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook for preparedness updates and their local National Weather Service office for the latest weather forecast, advisories, watches, or warnings. Download the FEMA app on your smartphone to receive mobile alerts from the National Weather Service. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available so you can still receive life-saving alerts.

For more information about preparing your business, your family, and your property against hurricane threats visit VAemergency.gov/hurricanes and ready.gov/hurricanes. Additional information about preparing for hurricanes during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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AG Herring again defends Virginia’s COVID safety measures

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Attorney General Mark R. Herring has again successfully defended Virginia’s COVID safety measures against legal challenge, making it at least the 13th decision Attorney General Herring and his team have won in defense of the Commonwealth’s COVID mitigation efforts that were put in place to prevent the spread of the virus and keep Virginians and their families and communities safe and healthy.

“Science has shown us that Virginia’s COVID mitigation efforts are proven effective in preventing further spread of the virus and keeping Virginians safe,” said Attorney General Herring. “As we continue to see a surge of cases around the country, including certain areas of Virginia, we know that we must continue to adhere to these critical safety measures to keep Virginians healthy. I am pleased we were once again able to successfully defend these important COVID mitigation measures, and I am really proud of the hard work my team has done to keep their fellow Virginians safe during these unprecedented times.”

The Plaintiff, in this case, William G. Dillon, Jr., who owns the Abbey Road restaurant in Virginia Beach, filed suit challenging the Governor’s executive orders that were passed to keep Virginians safe and healthy and prevent further spread of the deadly coronavirus. The Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction that would allow him to have more patrons in his restaurant. Judge David W. Lannetti of the Norfolk Circuit Court denied the request for a preliminary injunction, as well as the plaintiff’s petition for writ of mandamus after finding that “Plaintiffs failed to prove that they will suffer irreparable injury without the requested temporary injunction, that the requested relief is in the public interest, and that the equities tip in their favor.” Additionally, Judge Lannetti acknowledges that the COVID-19 situation is ever-evolving, but he makes the point that “Courts…resolve legal – as opposed to social or political – questions; the other branches of government establish and enforce statutes and policies.”

This is the thirteenth decision Attorney General Herring and his team has won in defense of Virginia’s COVID mitigation measures, including two cases that explicitly challenged Virginia’s mask requirement, in addition to winning court cases to protect the vote during the COVID pandemic.

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