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Virginia Democrats, Republicans reach deal on criminal justice reform

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R) announced a bipartisan agreement to pass a criminal justice reform package that includes raising the felony threshold for grand larceny and ensuring victims of crimes are paid restitution.

Currently, if a person steals an item valued at $200, they can be charged with felony grand larceny.  Norhtam said that threshold is the lowest in the country.  HB 1550 and SB 105 will raise the threshold to $500.  Advocacy groups and some Democrats had been pushing a $1,000 felony threshold, which would put have put Virginia in the middle of the pack nationwide, but Northam said the $500 level is a good start.

"It is unjust that a theft of something like a pair of shoes or a phone could send someone to prison with a felony conviction on their record for life," Northam said at the announcement.

"The grand larceny threshold was very important to Brian [Moran, Secretary of Public Safety], the Governor, and a lot of the folks on the Democratic side.  The restitution piece was huge for us," Speaker Cox said.

Republicans in the General Assembly had resisted increasing the grand larceny threshold for years, but Governor Northam promised to sign restitution reform bills in exchange.  HB 483 and 484, sponsored by Del. Rob Bell (R), requires the state to find and pay victims of crimes any restitution that is owed to them and requires defendants to pay any restitution they owe before getting off probation or court supervision.

A Crime Commission study found that more than $260 million in unpaid or uncollected restitution is owed to victims of crimes, Bell said.  More than $8 million in restitution already paid by defendants has never been paid to victims, Bell added.

“This is the biggest legislative change to how Virginia handles restitution in decades.  I think the significance of this is marked by the fact that the House is now willing to pass the grand larceny threshold," said Cox.

“In my view, the compromise legislation balances the rights of victims with a realistic view that there will be some offenders who are simply unable to pay restitution," Northam said.

Leaders from both parties praised the bipartisan effort, and said there is no doubt these piece of legislation will cruise through the legislature, eventually landing on the Governor's desk.

Democrats said Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran has been advocating for grand larceny threshold changes since he was General Assembly member in the late 1990's.  Bell said he has introduced restitution reform since 2007, and a similar bill even passed last session only to be vetoed by then Governor Terry McAuliffe.