Senator Louise Lucas

Lawmakers Pass Bills to Collect Data on Pretrial Detention

By Josephine Walker, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation this week that lawmakers said will increase transparency and equity in the judicial system, which disproportionately impacts communities of color.

The bills, introduced by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, will create a centralized, publicly-accessible data collection system on pretrial detention. Senate Bill 1391 and House Bill 2110 both passed Thursday.

Pretrial detention is the practice of holding a defendant in jail until trial. It is used, officials say, to guarantee the defendant appears in court and to ensure public safety. The compiled pretrial data would be distributed annually by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, or VCSC. 

The bills require the VCSC to compile and share data on the sex, age, race and zip code of an individual charged with a crime. The individual’s criminal background will also be included in the report without their name. No case identifying information could be accessed through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, or made publicly available, per the bills.

Maisie Osteen, an attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center, said the bills are a tremendous opportunity to understand release conditions like bond or pretrial services. She said they also illuminate trends in the racial, gender and economic demographics of people in jail. 

“This is the heart of transparency,” Osteen said. “It's opening up the actual raw data to the public in a downloadable, accessible format.” In Virginia, 46% of the total jail population is being held pretrial, according to the Legal Aid Justice Center.

Lucas and Herring drafted the bills at the Virginia State Crime Commission's recommendation. The lawmakers used data from the commission’s 2017 Pretrial Data Project, which sought to study the different types of release mechanisms involved in pretrial services, such as bond or pretrial holdings. Of the individuals included in the data, 40% were Black, though this group makes up 20% of the commonwealth’s total population. 

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, an executive partner at the Pretrial Justice Institute, said the commission’s new role was the first step in creating a more equitable Virginia. The institute provides information on current criminal justice issues and works to reform pretrial policies.

“The point of the bill is for advocates to take what they already knew was true about the way the system operates in terms of its disproportionate impact on communities of color,” Burdeen said. “And surely, its disproportionate impact on poor Virginians of all races.”

Being in jail before trial can drastically destabilize the accused and their families, according to a 2020 National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) study. The research found that as a result of pretrial detention people were more likely to lose connections to employment, housing and family. 

Osteen said most people are held pretrial because they can’t make bail and are more likely to have non salaried employment. She said they stand a greater chance of losing employment after a few days of being unable to report to work. This financial instability can then lead to a loss of housing or loss of children.

The NLADA study also found that those held in pretrial detention are more likely to be rearrested for new crimes, and more likely to have longer prison sentences. 

Osteen said that when a judge sees a defendant who “looks like a criminal” it can lead to harsher sentencing.

“I've heard judges say, honestly, ‘It's just easier to send somebody to prison if they show up in a prison or jail outfit, then I already know they've been plucked from their lives,’” Osteen said.

She said the judges are less likely to feel as if sentencing is the destabilization factor because it has already happened to the defendant.

Osteen said she is excited by the potential impact data collection will have on understanding the commonwealth’s justice system. She wishes the legislation included information about why judges decide to detain a defendant or not, a standard not currently required, Osteen said.

According to the VCSC, this legislation will cause a significant increase in the agency’s workload. The agency expects it will need additional funding to finance two new salaried positions.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Virginia Lawmakers Break For Brunswick Stew

People line up for Brunswick stew

Legislative pages transport stew

By Conor Lobb, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The aroma of meat and vegetables beckoned state legislators Wednesday to a tent at the foot of the Capitol for Brunswick Stew Day.

Scores of legislative pages -- young aides who assist lawmakers -- wheeled carts laden with styrofoam containers of stew back toward the State Capitol for legislators who couldn’t get away.

“There’s no cooking supper when you come home with Brunswick stew,” said Del. Thomas C. Wright, R-Victoria. Wright was the legislative “chef” responsible for the official resolution designating the fourth Wednesday in January as Brunswick Stew Day. 

“The legislators love it. At first, they didn’t even know what Brunswick stew was,” Wright said. 

Brunswick stew is a mixture of beans, chicken, corn and other vegetables. In 1988 the Virginia General Assembly named Brunswick County the “birthplace” of Brunswick stew -- though the designation hasn’t gone unchallenged by Brunswick, Georgia. 

For 18 years, stew masters have brought their award-winning recipes to the Capitol. This year, the honor belongs to the Danieltown Stew Crew. The group won the 2019 World Champion Brunswick Stew Cook-off, held last fall at the Lawrenceville-Brunswick Municipal Airport.

Inside the steamy, white tent where the stew cooked, a three-man team stirred the stew pots, weighing 50 and 75 gallons, respectively. Clark Bennett, the Danieltown Stew Master, told Capitol News Service that his 75-gallon pot is over 100 years old.

“Some people call them cauldrons,” Bennett said.

Bennett was using two massive cast iron cauldrons to brew his version of the Brunswick tradition. The stew crew used a wooden paddle to constantly stir the hearty mixture.

“I do a figure eight. You don’t want it sticking to the pot,” said Kyle Gee, a member of the stew crew.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Bettina Ring said that Brunswick Stew Day is a great tradition in Brunswick County and rustic parts of the state. She also called it an opportunity to educate legislators about rural communities.

Brunswick County Administrator Charlette Woolridge said Brunswick Stew Day helps promote the county and reach legislators.

“It’s important that they understand issues that impact Brunswick County and rural communities,” Woolridge said, highlighting the importance of increasing rural broadband and stimulating economic development.

Del. Roslyn C. Tyler, D-Jarratt, represents Brunswick. She said broadband is imperative “to promote economic development and attract businesses.” 

Two duplicate bills were introduced this legislative session, one in the House and one in the Senate, that would grant a locality the authority to establish telecommunication services such as internet and broadband.

Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, asked for her bill to be removed and the other bill, introduced by Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, failed to pass a subcommittee Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the bowls of steaming stew had no problem being passed around.

Nike

Senate Panel Kills Bill Designating Election Day as a Holiday

Amendment to Restore Felon Voting Rights Dies Along Party Lines

Groups Criticize Panel For Not Hiking Minimum Wage

By Jesse Adcock, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Advocacy groups for low-paid workers blasted a Virginia Senate committee for killing two bills that would have raised the minimum wage incrementally over the next three years.

“It is a sad day when politicians prioritize corporate profits over hardworking Virginia families,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia and a member of the Women’s Equality Coalition. “$7.25 is not enough to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head at the same time, and no one who works a full-time job should be living in poverty.”

Supporters of the legislation had hoped Virginia would become the 30th state with a minimum wage above the federally mandated minimum of $7.25 an hour. But on Monday, Republicans on the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee voted to kill the two proposals:

·         SB 785, proposed by Sen. David Marsden, D-Burke, would have raised the minimum wage to $8 an hour on July 1, to $9 an hour in 2018, to $10.10 an hour in 2019, and finally to $11.25 an hour in 2020. The bill died on an 11-3 vote.

·         SB 978, proposed by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, would have raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour on July 1, to $13 an hour in 2018, and ultimately to $15 an hour in 2019. The committee voted 11-2, with one abstention, against the proposal.

“Had we indexed the minimum wage for inflation 40 years ago, it would be $11,” Marsden said. “People are really falling behind.”

He said that by raising the minimum wage in yearly increments, his bill could have been repealed if evidence showed it was hurting the state’s economy. Marsden added that by raising the minimum wage, consumers could reclaim lost buying power that had been lost to inflation during the previous decades.

Representatives from the Catholic Conference, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, workers’ unions and minimum wage employees themselves came to speak in support of the bill.

“We continue to walk beside and around these people always telling them to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps,’” said Athena Jones, who came from Portsmouth representing home care workers. “But(we) have never given them shoes in the first place.”

Representatives of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the chambers of commerce for Prince William County, Roanoke and the Richmond area opposed the bill.

“Raising the minimum wage does not solve the problem – it only creates new problems,” said Ryan Dunn, a representative from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “There is no silver bullet for poverty.”

Dunn said that should SB 785 pass, between 10,000 and 31,000 minimum wage jobs would be lost.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw of Fairfax pointed out that number of jobs lost would represent a tiny slice of the state population.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the more than 4 million working Virginians in 2015, 50,000 of them earned exactly $7.25 per hour, while 69,000 earned less, because of exceptions to the federal law. (Employees under 20 years old in their first 90 consecutive days of employment, workers who make tips and apprentices can all legally be paid less than the minimum wage.)

“How many of your members pay $7.25?” Saslaw asked the business representatives. “If your business plan requires you to pay $7.25, you don’t have much of a business plan.”

“Some of us have a view that the system does work,” said Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville. “We have a good system in place.”

The committee voted to “pass by indefinitely” both bills, which means they will not be considered further in this session.

Afterward, Julie Emery, executive director of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table and a member of the Women’s Equality Coalition, said she was disappointed by the panel’s actions.

“Yet again, the politicians in Richmond have refused to give the working people of Virginia a raise. This despite the fact that polls show Virginians overwhelmingly favor increasing the minimum wage,” Emery said.

Three bills pending in the House of Delegates, all filed by Democrats, also seek to raise the minimum wage. They are HB 1444, proposed by Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke; HB 1771, by Del. Kenneth Plum of Reston; and HB 2309, by Del. Marcus Simon of Falls Church. Those bills have been referred to a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

Air Jordan 33 XXXIII

Subscribe to RSS - Senator Louise Lucas