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Congratulations, VOICE, on your work
In the Virginia General Assembly this year!

Throughout the General Assembly session that ended in early March, teams of VOICE leaders went to Richmond to speak with Cabinet members and our state senators and delegates to help move our key issues.

In addition, VOICE leaders responded when key state political leaders asked us to mobilize our people power to move on our shared budget interests. VOICE leaders acted -- and acted strategically.

Currently, around 50% of VA General Assembly leadership comes from Northern Virginia—including appropriation chairs, the House Speaker, and the House and Senate Majority Leaders. VOICE leaders representing congregations in those key districts put together congregational-wide plans to generate hundreds of calls and emails to their representatives to let them know:

“We understand that there are many competing priorities; as you debate what actions you will take, we ask you to keep in mind that the issues VOICE cares about came out of a 2-year campaign that involved over 500 Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders from our 50+ VOICE member institutions, who talked with more than 6,000 NOVA residents face-to-face.”

VOICE — You and your message got results! Congratulations! 

VOICE’s Criminal Justice organizing achieved a trio of major victories this session:

1) Public Defender Office in Prince William County

The issue: Through listening sessions and research actions, VOICE leaders learned that Prince William relies solely upon low-paid, court-appointed counsel to provide representation to indigent defendants, a system rife with serious flaws.

VOICE acted: VOICE led the fight for the historic creation of Prince William’s first-ever Public Defender office, which will lead to more equitable treatment for the poorest residents in Virginia’s only county that is majority people of color. Prince William is the second-largest jurisdiction in Virginia and the only jurisdiction in Northern Virginia and the largest locality without a Public Defender office. Like all of VOICE’s issues, the lack of adequate legal representation was cited as a concern again and again in listening sessions. Then, in October, VOICE mobilized 600 Prince William leaders for an assembly with local elected officials to kick off support for the Public Defender office.  

VOICE held dozens of meetings with key decision-makers within the General Assembly, including Gov. Northam, to secure the needed $5.4 million in the budget to fund the office.  The bill to create the Public Defender office was sponsored and championed by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and Sen. Scott Surovell, received critical support from Del. Luke Torian, the chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and was listed as a top criminal justice priority by Gov. Northam. 

2) Driver's Licenses 

The issue: Over the past two years, VOICE has helped spearhead a campaign to eliminate Virginia’s draconian practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court debt. In 2018, 627,000 Virginians were denied the right to drive to work, pick up their children from school, or take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment, simply because, being poor (and as is often the case a person of color), they were unable to pay their court debt. 

VOICE acted: In October of 2018, VOICE convened 1,400 of its members to ask Gov. Northam to help end this practice. Specifically, VOICE asked Gov. Northam to allocate money in his budget to replace revenue lost from reinstatement fees, roughly $9 million per year, which in the past had been a significant roadblock to passage of legislation that would have ended the practice of suspension altogether. In December of 2018, Gov. Northam followed through on his commitment to VOICE and allocated the needed funding in his budget.    

Because the legislation to undo this practice failed in committee in 2019, Gov. Northam and a bipartisan group of legislators worked to get it passed as a budget amendment, giving it the force of law for one year. Since that time, tens of thousands of Virginians have had their driving privileges restored, including many members in our congregations.

This year, with overwhelming bipartisan support, legislation passed to make the change permanent.

3) Felony Larceny 

The issue: Over the past two years, VOICE led a successful campaign to quadruple the threshold for felony larceny (theft) from one of the lowest rates in the country in 2018, $250, to $1,000 this year. For decades, thousands of Virginians have been impacted by the unconscionably low rate, which punishes people with lifetime felonies for often-minor property crimes. 

VOICE acted: VOICE played a major role in urging Gov. Northam to make increasing the threshold one his top criminal justice priorities this year, and we sent teams of leaders to Richmond to meet with dozens of members of the General Assembly to help ensure its passage.

In early March, Gov. Northam signed into law the increase to $1,000. 


The issue: For years, VOICE has fought to ensure that communities that have lived here for decades can continue to afford to do so and that our communities continue to be welcoming to new low-income families.  

VOICE acted: At our fall 2018 action, VOICE leaders called on Gov. Northam to commit to put money in the state budget for affordable housing. Since then, funding for affordable housing has been increased from less than $5 million a year to $73 million over the next two years, $60 million of which will be directed into the Housing Trust Fund. 



The issue: In 2018, over 1,400 VOICE leaders called on Gov. Northam to act with VOICE to address the growing mental health challenges among Virginia’s youth. Specifically, VOICE asked that Gov. Northam ensure that $90 million in new monies in his budget fund staffing needed to lower the student-to-counselor ratio in Virginia elementary schools from 500:1 to 250:1. 

  • In 2019, VOICE secured a downpayment of $12.5 million towards the $90 million needed to raise the school counselor-to-student ratio to 1:250. Gov. Northam committed the full $90M over three years in his budget.
  • In 2020, VOICE helped win $46.1 million, which moves the ratio to one counselor for every 325 students in K-12 schools in fiscal year ‘22.

VOICE celebrates the new monies -- and we still have work to do on this to get us to where we need to be. 

PRE-K Funding: VOICE for years has worked for more money for pre-K classes and has been successful in Prince William County. This year, with urging from VOICE, the General Assembly allocated $88 million in new monies to expand pre-K access to 3- and 4 year-old children.


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Related Items: 
Item Date: 
Tuesday, March 24, 2020