Civil liberties groups oppose agreement on theft threshold
By FADEL ALLASSAN
Feb. 15, 2018
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Minority and low-income advocacy groups are joining the Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union in opposing the General Assembly's bipartisan compromise that would increase the threshold at which a theft is considered a felony.
Bill Farrar, a spokesman for the Virginia ACLU, said the proposal is a step in the right direction but doesn't go far enough.
Under current law, a person who steals an item valued at more than $200 can be charged with felony grand larceny. HB 1550 and SB 105 would raise that threshold to $500 - an increase Democrats have advocated.
Republicans agreed to the legislation because it also would require defendants to pay restitution before getting off probation or court supervision.
Farrar said that the $500 threshold still would be too low and that the legislation could lead to poor people being on probation for the rest of their lives if they can't make restitution.
"It is a racial justice issue, a women's rights issue and an economic justice issue," said a statement issued by the ACLU and other groups. "The 'compromise' as agreed to would continue to affect women and people of color disparately, as well as keep many poor people under indefinite looming threat of additional consequences under the criminal justice system."
Justice Forward, the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Loudoun County Branch of the NAACP, the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and Virginia Organizing joined the Virginia ACLU in opposing the agreement.
Republican and Democratic legislative leaders, as well as Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, announced the agreement to raise the felony theft threshold last week. Northam hailed it as a "breakthrough for common-sense criminal justice reform" as members of both parties in the General Assembly agreed to push through legislation their counterparts previously blocked.
On Tuesday, the House of Delegates voted 98-2 in favor of HB 1550. It has been referred to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
Last month, the Senate passed SB 105, 36-3. It is now before the House Rules Committee.
This story was produced by Virginia Commonwealth University's Capital News Service.