The Virginia General Assembly convened on August 18 to consider bills that address the economic impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the Commonwealth’s budget and issues surrounding criminal justice reform and racial equity. We have been monitoring the floor and committee debates, tracking legislation and providing our input to legislators.
Budget: Governor Ralph Northam announced prior to the start of the special session that Virginia is facing a $2.7 billion shortfall within its two-year budget passed by the General Assembly in early March. As the special session unfolds, lawmakers are grappling with this reality. Among other items, early discussions have centered on how spending items that were new to the 2020-22 budget should be handled and whether the Commonwealth’s rainy day reserve fund, estimated to contain around $1.1 billion, should be used. We will provide more information soon on budget items with particular impact on the poorest and most vulnerable.
Criminal Justice and Racial Equity: Our communities have deeply felt the anguish and pain of senseless tragedies. We denounce abusive and disproportionate use of force wherever and whenever it occurs, and we recognize that most members of the law enforcement community are good and honest, doing difficult work in stressful environments. They perform a great and needed service. We have also heard from many in our communities that have experienced racial injustice. We must address this profound threat to human dignity wherever and whenever it occurs and work together to build a just society, and to do so through dialogue and effective action. We are not experts on the many prudential questions raised by the various bills that have been filed relating to policing, criminal justice and racial equity. We do not have a stance on every aspect or detail of these bills. We have, however, encouraged the General Assembly– with the appropriate input from those who do have expertise in these areas – to take steps to address the collection of data on the use of force, provide training towards de-escalation, work to end racial profiling, do away with choke holds, use body cameras, increase accountability and means of redress, and provide a pathway to study these issues further and make additional recommendations.
Marijuana Legalization: For the third time in 2020, a House member has introduced legislation that would legalize the commercial sale, possession and use of marijuana and related THC products (e.g., edibles). In the regular legislative session that ended in March, Delegates Lee Carter (D – Manassas) and Steve Heretick (D – Portsmouth) introduced such bills, which we opposed and both of which failed. Introduced this week by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy (D – Woodbridge), HB 5141, if enacted, would likewise pose great harm to children and families. We oppose legislation to legalize marijuana because it would expose children and young adults to a heightened risk of drug addiction. States such as Colorado that have legalized the controlled substance have seen increases in drug use, crime, emergency room visits, suicide and traffic fatalities. In the midst of a pandemic, the last thing Virginia needs is a corporate infusion of new, highly addictive THC products that would undermine state and local efforts to promote public health.
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In prayer and in public, your voices are urgently needed to bring Gospel values to bear on vital decisions being made by those who represent you.