RICHMOND — Governor Northam said he plans to address affordable housing and evictions, access to broadband internet, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and policy and criminal justice reform as priorities in the upcoming Virginia General Assembly special session, set to begin on Tuesday, August 18th.
The special session was called for legislators to reconvene to address Virginia’s biennial budget, which has been severely impacted by the ongoing global pandemic.
In addition, Governor Northam is proposing a moratorium on evictions until April 2021, new police reform measures, an investment in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and a proposal to invest in broadband internet for underserved communities.
“Our country is battling both a health crisis and an economic crisis at once, so Virginia is advancing new programs to help people stay in their homes, care for the ones they love, and feel safe in the community," Gov. Northam said. “This starts with sound fiscal management and smart investments in our future. Careful planning has kept us from having to gut critical services or lay off state workers like other states have done. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly to advance long overdue police reform and pass record investments in affordable housing and broadband, so we can continue to support Virginians during this unprecedented time.”
Below are several of Governor Northam’s priorities for the upcoming special session:
Safe, Affordable Housing
- Governor Northam is proposing $88 million in state funding to combat evictions and to expand access to affordable housing. These investments include a historic $85 million investment in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, which will complement federal CARES Act funding to expand access to affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and protect Virginians from eviction. The Governor is also proposing $3.3 million in funding to establish an Eviction Prevention and Diversion Pilot Program to reduce evictions in communities across the Commonwealth.
- Governor Northam is proposing a pause on evictions until at least April 30, 2021, tied to the requirement that landlords and tenants work together on a payment plan and seek out financial assistance, including through Virginia’s statewide Rent and Mortgage Relief Program.
- The Governor’s package includes a moratorium on utility disconnections for electric, water and natural gas utilities until 60 days after the current state of emergency ends.
Access to Broadband
- Governor Northam is proposing a record $85 million to expand access to broadband for unserved communities. This historic investment in the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) will fund last-mile broadband infrastructure across the Commonwealth during this time of need.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities
- Governor Northam is proposing a $15 million investment in Virginia’s public HBCUs. This funding will increase support for underserved students and will fund needed technology upgrades.
Police and Criminal Justice Reform
In July, Governor Northam directed the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Virginia African American Advisory Board, and the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law to develop policy recommendations and share input with the administration. Governor Northam has also communicated regularly with activists, community leaders, and law enforcement officials, and incorporated their feedback into his policy priorities.
The Governor’s special session priorities include measures to:
- Expand the criteria for which a law enforcement officer can be decertified, to include officers who are terminated due to law or policy violations or resign during an ongoing investigation;
- Empower Virginia’s Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings when de-certifiable conduct is brought to the Board’s attention, regardless of written notice from a local law enforcement department;
- Require law enforcement officers to intervene when they see a colleague engaging in or attempting to engage in unlawful use of force;
- Standardize law-enforcement training across Virginia through development of statewide minimum training standards, curriculum, and lesson plans, to include use of force tactics;
- Mandate information-sharing between hiring agencies and previous employers and strengthen the vetting process of newly-hired officers;
- Create best practices for Civilian Review Panels and empower localities to establish review panels;
- Diversify the Criminal Justice Services Board’s Committee on Training to include representatives from civil rights and community organizations, and require opportunities for public input into the development of training standards.
In addition, Governor Northam and his administration are working closely with legislators on measures including proposals related to behavioral health, fair and free elections, and racial equity. Additional proposals will be announced at the Governor’s annual speech to the General Assembly Joint Money Committees, and the Governor looks forward to continued discussions with lawmakers throughout the special session.