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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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Governor Northam declares State of Emergency and authorizes assistance to localities; curfew in the City of Richmond

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Governor Ralph Northam today, May 31, 2020, declared a state of emergency and authorized assistance to localities in response to escalating violence across the Commonwealth. The Governor granted a request from Mayor Levar Stoney to extend a curfew in the City of Richmond.

“This emergency declaration will provide the necessary support to localities as they work to keep our communities safe, said Governor Northam. “There are many voices speaking out for justice and healing across the United States and in our Commonwealth, but others are exploiting this pain and inciting violence.”

A state of emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources, including the Virginia National Guard, and preposition people and equipment to assist localities in their efforts to deescalate violent protests and protect public safety.

The declaration allocates $350,000 for state and local governments and state response and recovery operations authorized and coordinated through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

The order extends a curfew in the City of Richmond between the hours of 8:00 PM and 6:00 AM from Sunday, May 31, 2020, through Wednesday, June 3, 2020. While the curfew is in effect, people must remain in their homes and may only leave to seek emergency services or travel to and from home, work, or places of worship.

The full text of the emergency declaration can be found here.

Governor Ralph Northam also issued the following statement about protests in the City of Richmond.

“I acknowledge each of the voices crying out for justice and healing across the United States and in our Commonwealth. I affirm the deep concerns from the black community.

“I hear you. I know your pain is real. We have all seen too many people harassed, abused, and killed by law enforcement officers, in too many places, for too long—just for being black. I also know that others are exploiting this pain and are now causing violence.

“I spoke with Mayor Levar Stoney throughout the night; pursuant to the Mayor’s requests, I have authorized a curfew in Richmond and placed the Virginia National Guard on alert. They stand ready to assist in protecting our residents, businesses, especially small and black-owned businesses, and the capital city.

“As Governor of Virginia, I call on all Virginians to join together and build a renewed commitment to working for justice and fair treatment.”

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – May 28, 2020; Phase 2 could start June 5th

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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:

The Governor said that earliest the state could enter Phase Two would be Friday, June 5. Phase Two would look like this: stay at home for vulnerable populations, no social gatherings of more than 50 individuals, continued social distancing, continued teleworking, face coverings in public, and further easing business limitations.

He also mentioned the requirement to wear face masks starting Friday, May 29, people will be required to wear masks inside retail shops, restaurants, personal care, and grooming establishments, places people congregate, government buildings, and public transportation.

Exceptions will be allowed, including while eating or drinking, exercising, those with trouble breathing or health issues, and children under age 10. The governor stated enforcement would be done through the Virginia Department of Health, not by local Sheriff or Police.

Here’s the latest briefing:

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Governor Northam announces Microsoft Corp. to create 1,500 new jobs in Fairfax County

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~ Company will invest $64 million to establish software development and R&D regional hub ~

Governor Ralph Northam today, May 27, 2020,  announced that Microsoft Corp. will invest $64 million to establish a new software development and R&D regional hub, which will create 1,500 new jobs. The company will occupy 400,000 square feet in the Reston Town Center in Fairfax County for its new location, anticipated to be ready for employees in summer 2021. The plans include a new retail space for engaging directly with customers. Governor Northam met with Microsoft on an economic development mission at its headquarters in Washington in 2019.

“Virginia, like the rest of the nation, is facing unprecedented job loss due to COVID-19, so this announcement couldn’t come at a better time,” said Governor Northam. “Microsoft Corp. and Virginia share a strong history, and we are proud that this major operation in Fairfax County will add to the company’s significant job count across our Commonwealth. Virginia is a leader in the information technology industry, and Microsoft’s continued investment here is a testament to our top-ranked business climate, infrastructure, and world-class workforce.”

Microsoft has had a presence in Virginia since 2002, with corporate locations in Reston and the Richmond area as well as an enterprise data center in Mecklenburg County.

“Microsoft is a valued corporate partner, and we are excited to see the company expanding its footprint at its new software and R&D regional hub in Fairfax County,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “The creation of 1,500 new, well-paid jobs is obviously very welcome news during these economically challenging times. The demand for cloud services is steadily increasing, and Microsoft’s newest operation will serve its growing customer base while developing cutting-edge software and creating 21st-century tech jobs.”

Established in 1975 and headquartered in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft is a publicly held corporation with revenues surpassing $125 billion and nearly 156,000 employees worldwide. The company enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge.

“One of Microsoft’s core principles is actively listening to our customers, so we can build and improve our technology based on their feedback. Being close to our customer base is extremely important to our ongoing collaborations,” said Terrell Cox, general manager at Microsoft. “We’ve had a presence in Reston for many years now, and this expansion will allow Microsoft to deliver even more solutions from a region known for its innovation and passion for technology.”

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission to secure the project for Virginia. Microsoft will be eligible to receive a MEI custom performance grant of $22.5 million, to be paid post-performance, subject to approval by the Virginia General Assembly. Microsoft plans to utilize the custom performance grant to fund partnerships with local colleges and universities to develop the tech talent pipeline for cloud computing and related degrees to support its local expansion.

“Microsoft can choose from any number of technology hubs for its operations, and we are so pleased that the company chose to expand its operations in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia,” said Victor Hoskins, President, and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. “Because of our wealth of technology talent and the tech ecosystem here, this area is a great match for the company’s talent needs as well as its business goals.”

“Reston is proud to welcome Microsoft’s expansion in our Town Center,” said Senator Janet Howell. “Microsoft Corp. has been an important corporate citizen for many years. The decision to grow here is yet more proof that our region is a major technology hub.”

“I am thrilled that Microsoft has chosen to locate this significant operation and create 1,500 new jobs in Fairfax County,” said Delegate Kenneth Plum. “The Commonwealth and the County have a longstanding relationship with Microsoft, and this operation will only strengthen it. We look forward to welcoming the software development and R&D regional hub to the Reston Town Center.”

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Traffic crashes claim eight lives during 2020 Memorial Day weekend

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The 2020 Memorial Day weekend not only netted a reduction in overall traffic volumes on Virginia’s highways, but also a decrease in traffic deaths. Preliminary reports indicate eight people lost their lives during the four-day, holiday statistical counting period. During the same statistical counting period in 2019 and 2018, traffic crashes on Virginia highways resulted in 11 deaths.

Of the eight individuals killed this year on Virginia highways, two were riding on motorcycles and one was a pedestrian. The statistical counting period began at 12:01 a.m. Friday (May 22) and ended at midnight Monday (May 25). Virginia State Police statewide responded to 480 total traffic crashes during this past holiday weekend.

The fatal crashes occurred in the city of Virginia Beach and the counties of Caroline, Montgomery, Pittsylvania, Prince William, Rockingham, Southampton and Sussex. The two fatal motorcycle crashes occurred in Pittsylvania and Rockingham counties. The pedestrian, who was pushing his bicycle when he was struck and killed, was in Sussex County.

“Even though we are thankful for the slight decrease in traffic fatalities over the Memorial Day weekend, eight deaths are still too many,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “It is also concerning to see reckless driving citations and DUI arrests practically on par with last year’s holiday weekend. Fewer drivers should have demonstrated a significant decline in the number of citations and traffic deaths. Sadly, that was not the case and too many motorists were putting too many lives at risk due to reckless choices and deadly driving behaviors.”

During the weekend’s statistical counting period, Virginia troopers statewide cited 2,489 reckless drivers and arrested 70 impaired drivers. During the 2019 Memorial Day weekend, state police cited 2,548 reckless drivers and arrested 75 drivers for DUI.

“Considering that traffic was much less than what we normally see on this particular holiday weekend, it is very concerning to have only reduced the death toll by three in comparison to the past two years,” said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “As Virginia continues to gradually re-open through the Governor’s ‘Forward Virginia’ plan and more motorists return to the highways, it is imperative that Virginians make traffic safety a priority.”

The Virginia State Police holiday enforcement efforts are part of the Department’s annual participation in the Operation Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E.), a state-sponsored, national program intended to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries due to impaired driving, speed and failing to wear a seatbelt. During the 2020 Operation CARE Memorial Day statistical counting period, Virginia troopers also cited 2,469 speeders and 224 seatbelt violations. State police assisted 1,460 disabled motorists during the holiday weekend.

Funds generated from summonses issued by Virginia State Police go directly to court fees and the state’s Literary Fund, which benefits public school construction, technology funding and teacher retirement.

For more information on traffic safety and how to keep Virginia “Moving Toward Zero Roadway Deaths,” go to www.tzdva.org.

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Governor Northam announces face covering requirement and workplace safety regulations

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~ Face coverings required in public settings starting Friday, May 29 ~

Governor Ralph Northam today, May 26, 2020, signed Executive Order Sixty-Three, requiring Virginians to wear face coverings in public indoor settings to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Governor also directed the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.

Governor Northam also signed an amended Executive Order Fifty-One, extending Virginia’s state of emergency declaration.

The new executive order supports previous actions the Governor has taken to respond to COVID-19 in Virginia and ensures workers and consumers are protected as the Commonwealth gradually eases public health restrictions. The Governor’s statewide requirement for wearing face coverings is grounded in science and data, including recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that individuals should wear face coverings in public settings. Face coverings do not take the place of public health guidelines to maintain six feet of physical distancing, increase cleaning and sanitation, and wash hands regularly.

“We are making progress to contain the spread of the COVID-19 and now is not the time for Virginians to get complacent,” said Governor Northam. “Science shows that face coverings are an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, but wearing them is also a sign of respect. This is about doing the right thing to protect the people around us and keep everyone safe, especially as we continue to slowly lift public health restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

A face covering includes anything that covers your nose and mouth, such as a mask, scarf, or bandana. Medical-grade masks and personal protective equipment should be reserved for health care professionals. Under the Governor’s executive order, any person age ten and older must wear a mask or face covering at all times while entering, exiting, traveling through, and spending time in the following public settings:

• Personal care and grooming businesses

• Essential and non-essential brick and mortar retailers including grocery stores and pharmacies

• Food and beverage establishments

• Entertainment or public amusement establishments when permitted to open

• Train stations, bus stations, and on intrastate public transportation, including in waiting or congregating areas

• State and local government buildings and areas where the public accesses services

• Any indoor space shared by groups of people who may congregate within six feet of one another or who are in close proximity to each other for more than ten minutes

Exemptions to these guidelines include while eating and drinking at a food and beverage establishment; individuals who are exercising; children under the age of two; a person seeking to communicate with a hearing-impaired person, for which the mouth needs to be visible; and anyone with a health condition that keeps them from wearing a face covering. Children over the age of two are strongly encouraged to wear a face-covering to the extent possible.

The Governor is also directing the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards for occupational safety that will protect employees from the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces. These occupational safety standards will require the approval by vote of the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board and must address personal protective equipment, sanitation, record-keeping of incidents, and hazard communication. Upon approval, the Department of Labor and Industry will be able to enforce the standards through civil penalties and business closures.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five is available here.

The text of amended Executive Order Fifty-One is available here.

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – May 26, 2020; face masks required starting Friday

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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:

Starting Friday, May 29, people will be required to wear masks inside retail shops, restaurants, personal care, and grooming establishments, places people congregate, government buildings, and public transportation.

Exceptions will be allowed, including while eating or drinking, exercising, those with trouble breathing or health issues, and children under age 10. The governor stated enforcement would be done through the Virginia Department of Health, not by local Sheriff or Police.

Here’s the latest briefing:

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