At session’s midpoint, black legislators hail success
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — African-American lawmakers said Monday they have been successful this legislative session in addressing the problem of food deserts, funding apprenticeships for high school students and relaxing overly harsh school disciplinary policies.
At a press conference, members of the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus said they generally are pleased with how the session has progressed as it enters the second half.
“In the House and Senate, we have seen legislation advanced to address the long overdue need for an increase in felony threshold so that people are not harmed for life for relatively small mistakes; stop the suspension of drivers’ licenses, which makes it even harder for people to pay for their fines and court fees; reduce the imposition of counterproductive school suspensions for younger students; and tax credits for businesses that train Richmond high school students for good jobs,” said Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, the caucus chair.
The lawmakers said they were pleased that several bills were moving forward:
.SB 937 would provide a $2,500 tax credit to businesses offering apprenticeships for Richmond high school students. “Once that pilot is successful, we will expand it across the commonwealth because we realize that not everyone is going to college,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond.
.HB 1600 would reduce the maximum school suspension from 364 days to 45 days with exceptions for aggravating circumstances. “We can’t continue to use access to education as punishment and expect to change the outcomes for our young people,” said Del. Jeffrey Bourne, D-Richmond. “This is just one important step in dismantling and disrupting the ‘school-to-prison pipeline.’”
.SB 37 would fund construction and improvements of grocery stores and food retailers in underserved communities known as food deserts. Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, said the bill would help prevent diabetes, heart disease and other health problems related to diet.
.HB 1550 and SB 105 would raise the threshold for grand larceny - a felony crime - from $200 to $500. The current threshold hasn’t been changed since 1980.
“You just don’t know how many kids and college students, as a part of a dare, or pressure from peer groups go and commit dumb mistakes,” said Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk. He said young people convicted of felony theft under the existing threshold suffer lifelong consequences “keeping them away from the ballot box, keeping them away from business opportunities, keeping them away from educational opportunities.”
Despite those legislative successes, caucus members expressed disappointment about the fate of bills such as SB 909. It would have made it illegal in the housing industry to discriminate against people based on their “source of income,” including whether they receive government assistance. A Senate committee voted to put off the bill until next year.
“When I talk about low-income housing, I’m also talking about middle-class housing for our firefighters, our police officers, our teachers that too often can’t afford to live in the communities that they serve,” McClellan said.