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“It’s a huge deal,” said Christie Marra, director of housing advocacy for the nonprofit Virginia Poverty Law Center. “They put people in dangerous situations.”

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, and Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, said they will introduce bills in their respective chambers that would let judges punish landlords by awarding illegally evicted tenants $10,000 or six months’ rent, whichever is greater. The legislation would also push judges to hold hearings quickly when tenants file petitions claiming they’ve been illegally evicted.

Weeks after an election that saw unprecedented early balloting amid the pandemic, voting will again be a focus for Virginia lawmakers in the General Assembly session that starts Jan. 13.

 

Sens. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria and Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, are chief patrons of legislation in which Virginia would join the Popular Vote Compact. That is an agreement among states that pledge to award their electoral votes to the presidential ticket that wins the popular vote nationally.

 

The Virginia Values Act outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to housing, private employment, and public accomodations and creates a framework for those who believe they’ve been discriminated against to take legal action. 

“People can’t be turned away from a restaurant, turned away from an apartment, or denied a job because of who they love or who they are,” the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Adam Ebbin told COURIER in an interview.

Virginia is home to an estimated 257,000 LGBTQ adults and 50,400 LGBTQ youth, according to a January 2020 report from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. 

The law doesn’t just protect LGBTQ residents, either; it also bans discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex, religion, pregnancy, veteran status, and other categories. “There’s a lot of people in Virginia who need protection … It’s our broadest civil rights bill in Virginia history,” Ebbin said. “It would be wrong to just include one group without others.”

However, Senator Ebbin disagrees.

“Lawrenceville’s ratio of inmates is 40% higher than the Department of Corrections requirements for their own facilities,” Ebbin said.

He also noted that report also found an excess of $10 million in deferred maintenance work at the facility. Over the summer, 8News reported on flooding and water outages at the prison. It was the result of some leaky pipes.

“In July of this year water was cut off to inmates for 4 days in some units due to pipe leaks,” Ebbin said.

Virginia has only one privately-run prison, the Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Brunswick County. For years, it's been in the crosshairs of people who are critical of the industry. One of those people is Senator Adam Ebbin, a Democrat from Alexandria."We're incarcerating the people, and we have a responsibility for those inmates to do it right," Ebbin says. "However, private prisons by contrast have a motive to make money, lowering their operating costs, hiring fewer employees and pay and train them less than state-operated prisons."

 

He put the odds of passage at “slightly better than 50-50,” an assessment shared by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who proposed the decriminalization legislation earlier this year and plans to carry a legalization bill in January with Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond.

 

While Democrats make up the bulk of support, any votes on the issue are unlikely to fall strictly on party-lines, said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws, which has led lobbying efforts on the bill and noted that about a dozen Republicans backed decriminalization.

Ebbin said that, whatever the outcome next year, it’s clear Virginia is on track to move forward sooner than later.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the people expect this to happen eventually,” he said.

Delegate Paul Krizek (D-44) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-31) met last month with AHS leadership and said they expressed their willingness to discuss placing the property into public ownership so that River Farm can remain accessible to the public for generations to come.

#We have joined a smaller fundraising group that will focus our energy on raising the necessary funds to purchase River Farm,” Krizek and Ebbin wrote in an Oct. 1 column in this paper. “We have many avenues to try to obtain this funding, including applying for grants, soliciting funds from conservation organizations and private donations, as well as from government sources.”

The General Assembly is also working through several pieces of legislation related to policing and criminal justice reform. The omnibus policing reform bill includes a probation on no-knock warrants, the expansion of decertification measures for “bad apple law enforcement officers,” a limit on the use of chokeholds and the requirement of de-escalation training and reporting of data from all law enforcement agencies, Ebbin said.

Lawmakers voted to appropriate $2 million to reimburse local governments for the cost of providing prepaid postage to voters to mail their absentee ballots. Other language in the bill requires local election officials to create drop boxes ahead of the November general election for people who don’t trust the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their ballots in time to be counted. The legislation also allows voters who make technical errors on their ballots to correct them as long as their original ballot was cast by Oct. 31. Senate Bill 5120, and its companion measure, House Bill 5103, is a stand-alone budget bill that would take effect immediately after Gov. Ralph Northam signs it into law.

But Senator Adam Ebbin, a Democrat from Alexandria, says the reason the program allows for teens to get answers anonymously is because they are vulnerable.  “Ninety-two percent of sex predators are a family member of a close friend of the abused child. So this would allow kids to anonymously report abuse or ask questions. And a child is at much greater risk of being abused at home than they are of by a credentialed sex educator in another state.”

The budget amendment that would have eliminated the program was defeated on a party line vote.

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