by Frank Knaack, Director of Public Policy and Communications

It’s a wrap. After four months of advocacy before the General Assembly and Governor’s office, we can finally report how Virginians’ rights fared during the 2015 General Assembly Session. We had some major victories, but also some disappointing losses.

Before we get to the issues we owe our supporters a huge thank you! Throughout the 2015 session we asked you to make your voice heard and you and your fellow advocates delivered – more than 3,300 times!

Your voice has a huge impact. I cannot count the number of times that my colleagues and I met with legislators who mentioned how much they were hearing about ACLU of VA priority issues from their constituents (you!). While they can dismiss the ACLU of VA, they have a much harder time dismissing your voice. Thank you!

Getting back to the wrap up, on the positive side we worked to:

  • Pass legislation that will require law enforcement to get a warrant before it can use a drone or other new technologies to spy on us or collect our real time cell phone data.
  • Defeat a bill that would have made absentee voters submit a copy of a picture ID with their ballots;
  • Pass a budget amendment that will pay $25,000 in damages to each person still surviving who was involuntarily sterilized by Virginia during the dark ages of the eugenics movement.
  • Defeat a bill that would have allowed the Commonwealth to execute people using secret experimental drug concoctions.
  • Pass a bill that ensures that someone who overdoses or someone who is with them will have a Good Samaritan defense if they call for medical help.
  • Defeat legislation that would have expanded the school-to-prison pipeline by making criminals out of the 40% of teens who engage in sexting with their friends.
  • Defeat a bill that sought to allow state sponsored prayer at all meetings of public bodies.
  • Defeat legislation that would have given people and businesses holding state certificates or licenses the legal right to discriminate against same sex couples or people who engage in “homosexual behavior.”
  • Defeat legislation to further restrict reproductive freedom.

Despite these victories, we still have a long way to go until Virginia recognizes and ensures the civil liberties and civil rights of all its residents. For example:

  • Governor McAuliffe vetoed legislation that would have clarified an existing law that limits the collection and storage of your personal information by government agencies including law enforcement by adding specific language limiting the use of license plate readers and other surveillance technology;
  • The Senate killed legislation that passed 92-6 in the House of Delegates that would have required a criminal conviction before the government can keep and sell a person’s property. This legislation would have been a first step toward ending policing for profit in the Commonwealth.
  • The General Assembly passed and the Governor signed legislation creating a supplemental sex offender registry that retroactively lists people convicted of sex crimes before the actual registry was created but doesn’t include enough information about any of the people listed to allow anyone to know who the person listed is or where they currently live. People will be misidentified and others who have lived decades without reoffending will be stigmatized retroactively. We have long opposed the creation of sex offender registries because they are ineffective, counterproductive, and a waste of resources better spent on counseling and treatment. If a sex offender registry is to exist, however, it must have, at a minimum, a clear connection to public safety. Virginia’s new law fails to provide that clear connection.
  • The General Assembly passed and the Governor signed legislation to mandate collection of DNA from persons convicted of certain misdemeanors including resisting arrest.
  • The General Assembly failed to vote on legislation to end discrimination in public employment against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. This means that people who now have the freedom to marry still have no statutory protection from being fired for putting a picture of their family on their desk. And, we aren’t even talking (yet!) about ending discrimination in private employment, housing and public accommodations.

As we move toward the 2016 General Assembly session we will continue to ask you to make your voices heard. Together, we’ll ensure that the Commonwealth is a place that respects the civil liberties and civil rights of all its residents!

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