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Civil rights groups say deal on felony larceny threshold doesn’t go far enough

RICHMOND, Va. -- Civil rights groups said they are "disheartened" by the deal struck by Governor Ralph Northam and state Republicans that would raise the felony threshold for theft in Virginia in exchange for bolstering restitution collection processes in Virginia.

A version of the grand larceny threshold increase, which would raise the threshold to $500 from its current level of $200, passed the House of Delegates Tuesday. The $200 threshold is the lowest in the country.

While they said increasing the felony threshold is long overdue, the law has not been changed since the 1980, the Virginia State NAACP said $500 does not go far enough.

"The $500 'deal' does not even keep up with inflation let alone with what other states are doing. The threshold in Texas and Wisconsin is $2,500, in Pennsylvania and South Carolina it's $2,000, in Delaware and many other states is $1,500 and in Washington, DC is $1,000. Given the much higher thresholds in so many other states, why do top elected leaders continue to so severely penalize Virginia's poor and destitute citizens even at $500," wrote Rev. Kevin Chandler, President of the Virginia State Conference NAACP.

Chandler called on the Governor and state lawmakers to work toward raising the threshold even higher in future sessions. In a press conference late last week announcing the deal, Northam said he was open to the idea.

Groups like the ACLU, Legal Aid Justice Center, and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy have voiced opposition to the deal as well. They said when adjusting for inflation, the $500 threshold arguably is moving Virginia "backwards, not forward." The groups said the restitution changes would also mean defendants who cannot pay restitution would remain on probation indefinitely.

The Republican sponsored restitution reforms would require defendants remain on probation until their any restitution they owe is paid off.

Despite the criticism, the package of reforms is highly likely to pass through the General Assembly and be signed into law by Governor Northam.