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Caucus Members Ready With Proposed Bills As Assembly Opens

According to the Virginia Legislative Services website, members of the State House and Senate have submitted 879 proposed bills for consideration by their colleagues during the 2018 session of the Virginia General Assembly.

The submissions represent lawmakers’ efforts to secure legislation benefitting the people they represent.

Prior to the opening of the 2018 legislative session, several members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) shared with the GUIDE some of the more important legislative proposals they will put on the table this year.

Since its inception, VLBC members have been the strongest supporters of expanding Medicaid so Virginians who cannot receive healthcare subsidies can benefit from the Affordable Care Act.

Efforts to erase all barriers to voting is another VBLC concern, especially when the Republican-controlled White House and U.S. Congress are looking at ways to slow minority participation in the nation’s election system.

Freshman House Delegate Jay Jones, who was newly elected to the 89th District in Norfolk, is co-sponsoring the Ashanti Billie Bill. It would be the adult version of the Amber Alert used for missing and endangered children to help get the word out about missing and endangered adults.

It is House Bill 260 and amends an existing law to include a “Virginia Critically Missing Adult Alert Program.” The bill was spurred by last year’s disappearance and murder of a 19-year-old woman by that name.

While many first year lawmakers take a subdued posture in deference to senior members, Jones’ initial foray into the legislative mix is being applauded.

Billie, who worked at the Norfolk Amphibious Base, was killed by a patron of a restaurant where she worked at the facility. Her body was later found in North Carolina.

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Jones’ bill, he said, is part of his concern for public safety in Virginia and regionally. Amber Alerts are for missing and endangered children who are 17-years-old and younger, while Silver Alerts are for adults 65 years and older. However, there are no alerts for people like Ashanti, who fall in between the age gap.

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State Senator Mamie Locke of Hampton is proposing an amendment to the Constitution to remove all barriers to vote even for convicted felons who have served their time and paid their dues. If voted and agreed upon, it will be considered during another session. She is submitting it in an even year, such as 2018, so if it is approved, it will not be ignored or tabled for consideration in two years.

Locke is also submitting a bill to remove the 18 qualifications for acquiring absentee ballots. It is the only option Virginians have to vote early.

Another proposal of Locke’s would force landlords to clarify rent-to-own agreements in leases. Locke said many people sign leases assuming they are paying rent which would eventually allow them to buy and own a property.

The same is found in the rent-to-own agreement imposed by appliance chains.

Another bill she is sponsoring will shield students from the harsh truancy laws imposed by school divisions. Locke said many students who are frequently truant are not doing it deliberately. She said they may be working as the only breadwinner in their homes or as a caregiver for a family member.

She said this would deter courts from sending students into the criminal justice system. Also, it would direct locals to develop more practical means of dealing with such cases.

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Delegate Marcia Price of the 95th District of Newport News said she is taking an idea from Hampton Police Department which uses third parties to investigate police-related shootings.
She wants that policy to work statewide.

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Also there is growing concern police officers who may be guilty of abuses while employed by one department, will find employment with another, without their work history being reviewed.

Price is backing a bill requiring police departments to release and share such information with departments where officers are seeking employment.

Another of her bills would provide resources and require police departments to train their officers in deescalating tense situations with mentally-challenged people they encounter while out on patrol.

She said that mental illness “should not be criminalized by officers due to their biases or lack of information of mental health issues.”

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State Delegate Matthew James of Portsmouth said he has proposed a bill to study the impact of state-owned ports on local governments.

Another of his bills would add the Mt. Calvary Cemetery complex in Portsmouth to the list of historical African-American cemeteries for which qualifying charitable organizations may receive funding for maintenance.

Also, James is supporting the creation of a state law which would enable Small, Women and Minority-owned businesses (SWAMs) to acquire a more equitable footing in the state’s procurement system.

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State Senator Lionell Spruill, who represents parts of Chesapeake and Norfolk, is proposing a bill to deter detaining juveniles in correctional facilities with adults, a situation that Spruill says exists at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail.

Since Norfolk has abandoned the policy of council selecting members of the city’s school board, Spruill was asked to sponsor a bill to allow the city to pay for elected panel members.
Another bill of his would require insurance companies to provide five days of prescription drugs for citizens who lose their medicine during a house fire.

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Another of his bills would require that students seeking a degree in mortuary science gain actual experience in that area during the first year of study. Spruill said that although many students may do well in the classroom, some may find the actual work with dead bodies repulsive and be obligated to pay back the loans used to pay tuition.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

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