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RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced he has signed 32 new pieces of legislation into law, including several important equity measures. Among the newly-approved legislation are bills to raise the felony larceny threshold, ban discrimination on the basis of hair, and repeal outdated, discriminatory language related to racial segregation in schools that is still on Virginia’s books.
Felony Larceny Threshold
Governor Northam signed House Bill 995, sponsored by Delegate Joe Lindsey, which raises the felony larceny threshold from $500 to $1,000. In 2018, Governor Northam negotiated a compromise that raised the threshold raised from $200, the first time it had been adjusted in over three decades. Thirty-five other states and Washington, D.C. have felony thresholds at or above $1,000. This measure will lead to fewer Virginians with felony convictions on their records. This bill incorporates House Bill 263 and is identical to Senate Bill 788.
“While we will continue to hold people accountable for their actions, it’s important that the punishment fit the crime,” said Governor Northam. “This bill will bring Virginia in line with the majority of states in our country, modernizing our law to ensure that one mistake does not define a person’s entire life.”
“The time is past due for Virginia to join other states in setting our felony larceny threshold at a reasonable level," said Delegate Lindsey. “I’m proud to have sponsored this bill and I’m glad to see it signed.
Repealing Discriminatory Language Relating to Racial Segregation in Schools
Governor Northam signed House Bill 973, sponsored by Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, which repeals discriminatory language on Virginia’s books relating to racial segregation in Virginia schools. This bill is identical to Senate Bill 600.
Governor Northam established the Commission to Examine Racial Inequality in Virginia Law to study the Virginia Acts of Assembly, Code of Virginia, and administrative regulations and identify racist and discriminatory language that may no longer have the effect of law, but remains on Virginia’s books. The Commission identified nearly 100 instances of discriminatory language in its interim report, and will continue to make recommendations to address laws that were intended to or could have the effect of promoting or enabling racial discrimination or inequity. This is one of several bills passed during the 2020 legislative session to remove this language.
“During the Jim Crow era, racism and discrimination were written into laws that were used to enforce segregation and inequality across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Words matter, and there is no reason for this overtly discriminatory language to remain on our books. I am proud to sign this bill to move Virginia forward.”
“As an educator who has spent fifteen years teaching the Constitution, its values, and Jim Crow’s perversion of both, I am humbled to have played a small part in removing some of these last stains of the Jim Crow era from Virginia’s code,” said Delegate VanValkenburg. “This is an important step in the direction of justice for communities that have long suffered the injustices of racial segregation.”
Banning Racial Discrimination on the Basis of Hair
Governor Northam signed House Bill 1514, sponsored by Delegate Delores McQuinn, which bans discrimination on the basis of hair. The bill clarifies that when the law bans racial discrimination “on the basis of race,” that includes “traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.” This bill is identical to Senate Bill 50.
“It’s pretty simple—if we send children home from school because their hair looks a certain way, or otherwise ban certain hairstyles associated with a particular race—that is discrimination,” said Governor Northam. “This is not only unacceptable and wrong, it is not what we stand for in Virginia. This bill will make our Commonwealth more equitable and welcoming for all.”
“A person’s hair is a core part of their identity,” said Delegate McQuinn. “Nobody deserves to be discriminated against simply due to the hair type they were born with, or the way in which they choose to wear it. The acceptance of one’s self is the key to accepting others.”
Fair Division of Property
Governor Northam signed House Bill 1605, sponsored by Delegate Patrick Hope, which protects the interests of co-tenants—heirs that own property in common—in inherited property. The bill incorporates provisions of proposed legislation from the Uniform Law Commission, preserving the right of co-tenants to sell their interest in inherited land while also ensuring that there is due process for all co-tenants with an interest in the property. The transfer of family property from generation to generation can disproportionately impact middle and low-income families who may not have access to affordable legal services to help protect their property rights and families’ inherited wealth. This bill is identical to Senate Bill 553.
“For many families, inherited land has multiple owners, which can make it difficult to fairly protect all heirs’ interests,” said Governor Northam. “This bill spells out steps courts will take to ensure all co-tenants’ rights are preserved and prevent the loss of inherited land. It is about basic fairness and equity for all, and I’m happy to sign it.”
“This bill is important for families,” said Delegate Hope. “It will ensure that when property is passed down from generation to generation, the rights of co-tenants to sell their interest in the property is preserved, while ensuring that the other co-tenants have due process as well."
Governor Northam also signed 28 additional bills:
Until the session’s final week, the Constitution of Virginia requires the Governor to act on legislation within seven days.
The General Assembly session is scheduled to adjourn on March 7, 2020.
The full list of legislation signed by the Governor can be found here.
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