Richmond Free Press Column: General Assembly Session Update #3

A message from Senator McClellan

Next Wednesday marks the halfway point in the 2017 General Assembly Session. Over the past week, the Senate passed several bills to strengthen relationships between law enforcement and communities, align Virginia with the rest of the nation in punishment for theft, assist former felons who reintegrate into society after completing their sentences, expand Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws, and curb predatory lending.

First, the Senate passed SB 1047 (Sen. Lucas) expanding mandatory sensitivity and cultural biased training for law-enforcement officers to include fair and impartial policing, verbal de-escalation, and the needs of special populations. The bill promotes community policing statewide, requiring the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to help development programs that are transparent and account for the needs of all community members, including underserved communities and those with special needs. It also requires DCJS to develop training programs for law-enforcement agencies that address supervision, accountability, and community engagement.

Second, the Senate passed SB 816 (Sen. Surovell) increasing the grand larceny felony threshold from $200, currently one of the lowest in the nation, to $500. The bill originally raised the threshold to $1,000, but the Courts Committee reduced the amount to $500.

Third, the Senate passed SB 1171 (Sen. Dance) "banning the box" by removing criminal background questions from the initial job application for state employment and allowing localities to do the same. The prohibition does not apply to applications for employment with law-enforcement agencies, certain positions designated as sensitive, or in instances where a state agency is expressly authorized by a specific federal or state law to ask about criminal history for employment purposes. Agencies may consider criminal history later in the process, but this bill removes a significant barrier for many to even be considered for employment.

In a victory for equality, the Senate passed two bills expanding Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. SB 783 (Sen. Ebbin) prohibits such discrimination in public employment on the basis of sexual orientation and codifies for state and local government employment the current prohibitions on discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran. SB 822 (Sen. Wexton) adds discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity as an unlawful housing practice.

The Senate also passed 36-3 legislation to regulate predatory online loans. SB 1126 (Sen. Surovell) makes clear that Virginia's consumer finance laws apply to internet loans made to Virginia residents or any individuals in Virginia, whether or not the person making the loans maintains a physical presence in the Commonwealth.

I was proud to co-sponsor and/or support these bills. Unfortunately, each faces an uphill battle in the House, which killed identical or similar measures.

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