Public Comments for 02/10/2021 Courts of Justice - Criminal Subcommittee
SB1105 - Post-conviction relief; previously admitted scientific evidence, report.
As a grandmother myself I would know what I would do if they were taking away from me, but I do know my world would be turned upside down The smiles they give you, the hugs, the kisses, melt your heart seeing the look in their eyes when making cookies with granny give you such feeling you can't explain, the love we have for them and to take all of that away will crush them forever.
SB1122 - Habitual offenders; repeals remaining provisions of Habitual Offender Act.
SB1138 - Sexually transmitted infections; infected sexual battery, penalty.
Re: SUPPORT for SB 1138, Testimony from the Human Rights Campaign in support of the bill to modernize existing HIV-specific state laws Dear Chair Herring and Members of the Committee, On behalf of its more than three million members and supporters nationwide, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) thanks you for the opportunity to submit testimony on SB 1138, an important measure that would modernize Virginia’s existing HIV-specific laws and help advance public health efforts to end the HIV epidemic. HRC is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBTQ people, including those impacted by HIV, and realize a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all. Virginia’s existing HIV-specific criminal statutes unjustly target and punish people living with HIV (PLWH). These provisions are based on long-outdated and inaccurate beliefs about HIV risks and transmission, and do not reflect present-day realities—realities like the fact that PLWH who achieve an undetectable viral load through modern treatment cannot transmit the virus to their sexual partners. What’s more, Virginia’s current HIV-specific laws do not account for other effective HIV prevention measures like condom and pre-exposure prophylaxis use; make no distinction between high-risk, low-risk, and risk-free consensual conduct; and criminalizes PLWH without regard to actual transmission. HIV-specific criminal laws like those currently in force in Virginia are a serious threat to public health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV-specific criminal laws "have been shown to discourage HIV testing, increase stigma, and exacerbate disparities.”They undermine efforts to reduce new HIV infections by increasing the already prevalent stigma against PLWH—a stigma that drives many to not get tested or refrain from seeking appropriate treatment, thereby increasing the risks and rates of transmission. Additionally, these laws spread and legitimize patently inaccurate beliefs about HIV risks and transmission, further amplifying the stigma and marginalization of PLWH. Since these laws target people who know their HIV status, they disincentivize getting tested by privileging ignorance of one’s HIV status and punishing responsible behavior. SB 1138 would help support state public health efforts to end the HIV epidemic by repealing HIV-specific criminal laws that unjustly target and punish PLWH. This would represent a major step forward in decreasing the harmful stigma surrounding HIV, encouraging an accurate understanding of HIV risks and transmission, and supporting efforts to increase HIV testing and treatment as prevention. I strongly urge you to vote in favor of SB 1138. Sarah Warbelow Legal Director, Human Rights Campaign
Dear Chairman Herring and Members of the House Courts of Justice Committee, Our names are Cedric Pulliam and Deirdre Johnson and we are writing to you today on behalf of the ECHO VA Coalition to address HIV criminalization in Virginia. We are asking you to support Senate Bill 1138. We are in full support of Senate Bill 1138 because this bill ensures the Virginia Code reflects the current scientific understanding of HIV, and promotes public health by alleviating the stigma and mistrust of health institutions that limit the usage of testing and treatment services. I have lived and advocated for people living with HIV for 20 years. The biggest barrier has been getting people to feel comfortable to trust the systems currently in place to get tested and seek treatment for HIV. The fear and stigma of being punished for knowing your HIV status has created a juxtaposition between engaging in the basic human right of being loved and getting tested or seeking the care we need. To some it may be a simple choice, but for many of us living with HIV it is not that easy. No one should face criminal charges for living with a disease, especially not HIV. The Centers for Disease Control has made it very clear that HIV Criminalization works against public health. The time is now for Virginia to have our laws reflect our state slogan...Virginia is for Lovers, and by passing SB1138, that includes people living with HIV or at a perceived risk for HIV. - Co-Founder, Deirdre Johnson As a clinical health psychologist, public health, and medical professional who has worked in HIV since 2008 I have seen the advancement of HIV science grow exponentially in 13 years. The mere fact that these laws was a mandate in order for states to receive funding under the Ryan White Care Act as a protection because of the lack of scientific research and evidence on HIV transmission, treatment, and services showcases that in 2021 the time has come for the Commonwealth of Virginia to right our wrong that was enacted in 1997 (24 years ago) to Virginians living with HIV and pass SB1138. Federal government agencies have called upon state legislatures to modernize or repeal these HIV criminalization laws because data showcases the negative impact they have caused on HIV prevention, treatment, and care services and in order to end the HIV epidemic state’s must eliminate laws such as infected sexual battery law. The unwavering message is clear that scientific advancement has brought us to understand that a person taking HIV treatment regularly can attain an undetectable viral load, which means they cannot transmit HIV to any partner. Advancements like this should be considered by state legislators such as each Senator of this committee. Additionally, we also know that over 25,000 Virginians are living with HIV and they should have an equitable lifestyle both personally and sexually just as any other person should. We also know that laws like this showcase systemic racial inequities towards Black and Latino persons. As a public health professional, I know that the infected sexual battery law creates a higher rate of mistrust of health professionals, medical mistrust, stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV, and does not align with the HIV medicine and science of 2021. - Co-Founder, Cedric Pulliam
I am writing on behalf of the Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN) in support of SB1138. PWN is the only nationwide membership organization comprised of women and people of transgender experience living with HIV. Our work is grounded in social justice and human rights, and we explicitly apply a racial justice and gender justice lens to address the multifarious barriers women living with HIV face in all aspects of our lives. PWN members are actively engaged in HIV modernization efforts in states around the nation, including Virginia. Any campaign that seeks to change HIV-specific laws must meaningfully include people living with HIV, and this is especially true for efforts to address HIV criminalization laws. It is the lives, rights, and safety of people living with HIV that will be most impacted by any modernization effort. The domestic HIV epidemic remains a significant public health issue, one that has disproportionality impacted Black, Indigenous and other communities of color (BIPOC), LGBTQ people, people who use drugs, and sex workers. In Virginia, despite only making up 19.5 percent of the population, Black people make up 58 percent of persons living with HIV. It is abundantly clear who bears the brunt of the HIV epidemic in Virginia—an epidemic that cannot be ended via criminalization. Laws that criminalize people living with HIV disproportionately impact women, especially Black and other women of color, women who are sex workers and women of trans experience. They are also disproportionately enforced against Black people living with HIV. A recent study in Georgia showed that Black men and women are significantly more likely to be arrested for HIV-related offenses than their white counterparts, and Black men are nearly twice as likely to be convicted than white men. Virginia’s HIV criminalization statute, works against public health and the public interest. HIV criminalization laws disincentive HIV testing by subjecting those who know their status to the ever-present threat of arrest and criminal prosecution. They create mistrust of, and alienation from, public health institutions and put people living with HIV at heightened risk of violence from intimate partners. The law reflects on outdated and mistaken understanding of HIV. It fails to reflect the current landscape of HIV prevention and treatment by including conduct that does not pose a risk of HIV transmission such as spitting. The law fuels continued stigma, misinformation, and discrimination against people living with HIV. It is well past time to modernize the Virginia code to better reflect our current understanding of transmission of HIV and quality of life for people living with HIV. SB1138 modernizes the commonwealth’s HIV criminalization law that targets a specific population, that perpetuates the stigma and barriers to healthcare that the population experiences, and that constitutes both a human rights violation and a prevention of effective public health. By voting to support SB1138 the Virginia House Courts of Justice Committee's Criminal Subcommittee signals its support for people living with HIV to live life free from shame, stigma and fear of how they may be unfairly punished based on their status. It is with this background that we urge you to vote “yes” on SB1138.
Members of the Committee for Courts of Justice, The de-criminalization of HIV, represented in SB1138, is a critical preventive strategy to ending the HIV epidemic. Because criminal liability generally only applies to those who know their positive status, and can therefore be held morally responsible, it is incapable of being an effective prevention tool against transmission in this context. (Conversely, although there is relatively little empirical evidence to suggest that people are dissuaded from testing as a result of criminalization, there is the possibility that people may assume that PLHA will necessarily disclose their status or insist on safer sex (in order to avoid liability), when this may not be the case, thus creating a false sense of security.) Secondly, overly broad criminalization reproduces and reinforces negative stereotypes about PLHA through (frequently inaccurate and sensationalist) press coverage of trials and convictions. This contributes to the stigma associated with HIV, which in turn creates obstacles to prevention and treatment and undermines the right of PLHA to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and wellbeing. Sexual health physicians, nurses, and advisers may feel conflicted—to the detriment of their patients, their own professional identity, and public health more generally—if they feel obliged to raise the question of criminalization with those have been diagnosed positive, and there is the risk that the relationship of trust critical to patient care is compromised. In the era of biomedical interventions that can suppress an individual’s viral load, that is the number of copies of HIV virus in single mL/blood, to such small quantities it can no longer be detected in standard diagnostics; achieving viral suppression through antiretroviral treatment adherence means HIV can no longer be sexually transmitted, making early diagnosis and access to treatment a powerful weapon in the fight against further infection. A willingness to get tested, to initiate treatment and adhere to prophylaxis, or cope with unique challenges facing communities at-risk of HIV, depend on public health efforts to reduce stigma. Stigma has the power to undermine any progress made in ending the HIV epidemic and reducing stigma to improve HIV prevention, treatment and care is an integral part of public health practice; be it advocating HIV testing or adherence to treatment as prevention, measures to control the burden of HIV depend on governing bodies to intervene on behalf of the most vulnerable and stimulate the development of stigma reduction interventions. SB1138 boldly answers this call to action by identifying section of the code that reference the criminalization of HIV and STI exposure, infection, and transmissibility, and the ethical and empirical implications of counterproductivity in public health and health policy. Accepting SB1183 into law strengthens capabilities for addressing critical health issues by removing unjustifiable limits on public health practice and any references that empower stigma and reduce the capacity for public health to work with diverse communities to improve population health outcomes for all of the Commonwealth.
SB1206 - Confidentiality of juvenile court records; exceptions.
The focus of my testimony today is on youth that are currently involved with the child welfare system, as victims of abuse and neglect, that have also become involved with the juvenile justice system. These youth often go undetected as dually-involved by the agencies serving them due to the lack of communication between them, and as a result are often the subject of court orders and recipient of services that are not well coordinated, often duplicative, and at times inconsistent. Consequently, these youth, victimized by the traumatic experiences in their lives are often re-traumatized by the systems with the responsibility to rehabilitate, support, and assist them. In order to improve how we serve these youth and improve their outcomes, these systems must better coordinate and collaborate in their assessment, case planning and case management. The initial challenge faced by many jurisdictions in doing so is the lack of integrated data systems, which limits the juvenile justice system from learning of a youth’s involvement with the child welfare system at the time of intake. Conversely, if a youth is involved with the child welfare system, the juvenile justice agency may be unaware of the open case. This lack of information sharing presents a challenge in that while each of these agencies may be working with the same youth and families, they are blinded to that fact. The absence of communication creates instances where families are being provided the same services by multiple providers, are participating in multiple, overlapping case planning meetings with various agencies, are requested to appear at multiple, uncoordinated hearings across the dependency and delinquency court dockets, and are responding to the demands of various government agencies (or their contracted providers), in circumstances in which their failure to cooperate could have a negative life-long impact on their family. The end result is that families and their children often have a chaotic and less than fully coherent experience with the systems that are supposed to assist them. The information sharing being proposed in this bill will allow the names of youth to be shared at the onset of the case in the “second” system. The information shared will only be used for case planning and coordination of services. While there is also a need for aggregate data analysis designed to improve system level performance, it is my understanding that this much-needed legislative change may be addressed in the future. It is my belief that the implementation of this bill will be done with safeguards to protect the privacy interests of the youth and families in this dually-involved population and ensure appropriate and limited utilization of the information. The goal is not to simply widen the universe of people that have access to this information, but to ensure that on a need to know basis collaborative assessment, planning and ongoing case management for these youth takes place in a routinized manner. As demonstrated in other jurisdictions across the country, this has resulted in decreases in detention utilization for youth in foster care, increases in the number of youth in foster care being appropriately diverted from formal justice system involvement, increases in youth/family engagement, and most importantly improvement in population level outcomes (behavioral health, education, positive youth development, and recidivism). Professor Shay Bilchik, Georgetown University
Family Impact Statement SB1206 Good Morning, as a Grandma that raised her Grandchildren in non-formal kinship care here in Virginia, I am speaking on behalf of our family’s experience. As a constituent and the voice of youth that are adversely impacted. I ask you to vote yes to this new revised way of information sharing that will give our children who are at great risk a better outcome. Our children deserve the support and consideration for a solid future. The impact of with holding information that can change the outcome of a youth’s life is shameful to say the least. As I advocate for change this specific policy is like a Brick Wall between agencies that are here to help Youth. We must break down this Walls to coordinate services with accurate responsible information sharing to improve youth outcome.
My name is Tricia Bassing. I am Chief of Child and Family Behavioral Health Services with the City of Alexandria CSB. For the past several years, I’ve collaborated closely with colleagues in child welfare and our court service unit, people with lived experience in our systems, legal experts and advocates, and the Georgetown Center for Juvenile Justice Reform in an effort to improve our system for families involved in both juvenile justice and child welfare. We recognize that these children are most vulnerable for deeper involvement in both systems, homelessness, out of home placement and chronic behavioral health challenges. These outcomes are not because families are inherently bad. It is because our systems are not sufficiently set up to address the layers of trauma they have experienced. One vital way to stem this tide is to ensure early coordinated care. We’ve heard from families that the lack of early coordination and differing information among our agencies sets them up for failure. They see us as all a part of the same system – which we really are. This legislation would allow court service and child welfare colleagues to find out immediately if a child they have encountered is involved with the other agency, allowing them to reach out and get guardian permission from the very beginning. This is vital and will allow for an efficient and effective coordinated assessment and access to services, while eliminating redundancies. Families will have greater trust in the system because they will see we are working together. From a behavioral health perspective, there are times we are unaware of a child’s involvement with our Court Service Unit. If we knew right away, this information could support meeting a child and family’s behavioral health needs, in addition to ensuring a coordinated systems response – aligning youth and family goals across the system as much as possible. We could also secure releases of information to coordinate early and often with the CSU to ensure a trauma informed lens is applied to their dispositional report. Additionally, at the point of clinical assessment with a family who is CSU involved, this bill would allow us access to the dispositional report, with a guardian’s release of information. Under current law, we cannot access it without a court order. Up front access to this report will ensure efficient and quality assessment and services. HIPPA, the federal law protecting health information, takes priority over this legislation. Alexandria has been stymied by the inability to share disaggregated data among CSU, CSB and Child Welfare for the purpose of system improvement. We can’t understand trends in practice to make positive change. This is a disservice to our families and results in ineffective and more expensive higher levels of service. I appreciate that this type of information exchange must be managed carefully and support the bill’s inclusion of a study to assess the impact of such local data sharing and make best practice recommendations for future bills. With this incremental legislation, I believe we can make foundational changes in line with current juvenile justice reform that sets up our most vulnerable youth and families for success. Thank you for your consideration.
Testimony Senate Bill 1206 February 10, 2021 Greta Rosenzweig, Chief of Child Welfare Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services Good Morning. My name is Greta Rosenzweig, and I am the Chief of Child Welfare for the Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services. I am speaking in support of Senate Bill 1206. On any given day, and often through no fault of their own, youth at-risk of or involved with child welfare and juvenile justice in Virginia fluctuate between various systems of care. These young people are commonly referred to as crossover, dual-status, or dual-system youth . Although the number of crossover youth in Virginia is currently unknown, researchers have found that between 7 and 30% of youth involved in the child welfare system eventually cross over into the juvenile justice system nationally . These individuals face many obstacles including histories of familial mental health challenges and substance use, high rates of education-related difficulties, placement instability and a lack of permanent social connections, and higher rates of recidivism than their single-system peers . Additionally, African American youth are highly overrepresented in this population as are those who identify as LGBQ/GNCT . Since March 2019 and with technical assistance from the Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, youth serving agencies from the City of Alexandria have worked collaboratively to develop a Crossover Youth Practice Model to address the needs of crossover youth. This partnership is led jointly by Alexandria’s Child Welfare Services and Child and Family Behavioral Health Services, and the City of Alexandria Court Service Unit and it includes representatives from the school system and local law enforcement, Guardians ad Litem, Commonwealth, and local jurisdiction attorneys, as well as youth, and families. We have experienced and witnessed first-hand the negative consequences of not knowing immediately when a youth has “crossed over” and not having the ability to share information during case assessment, planning, and management. These include redundancies, lack of coordinated and streamlined services, and an experience for families and youth that is confusing, inconsistent, and overwhelming. We support Senate Bill 1206 because it will allow Child Welfare Services and Court Service Units to identify crossover youth immediately and will allow us to share information so that Child Welfare Services, Court Service Units and Child and Family Behavioral Health can develop coordinated and collaborative assessments, service plans and service delivery. As a result, and based on outcomes from other states and jurisdictions nationally, who can share information and develop coordinated strategies to serve crossover youth, we expect to see: 1. reductions in the number of youth placed in foster care or out-of-home care; 2. reductions in the use of congregate care; and 3. reductions in the disproportionate representation of youth of color We support the bill’s inclusion of a Virginia Commission on Youth work group review of current data and record sharing provisions with regard to youth served by the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Thank you. Greta Rosenzweig Chief of Child Welfare Alexandria DCHS 2525 Mt. Vernon Avenue Alexandria, VA 22301 703.746.5748 email@example.com
The City of Alexandria asks for your support for SB 1206 (Barker, co-patroned by Del. Herring). This bill was proposed as a way to provide efficient, narrowly tailored access to Court Services Records of juveniles being served by both the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system in a locality. This is key to our efforts – and the efforts of other localities including Fairfax Co. and Arlington – to implement a Crossover Youth Practice Model, which is a best practice model to support youth who are co-involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Some of the goals of this model include reducing the number of youth “crossing over” and becoming involved in both systems and reducing the disproportionate representation of youth of color in the “crossover” population. Currently, code allows for the sharing of these court services records with “Any public agency, child welfare agency, private organization, facility or person who is treating or providing services to the child pursuant to a contract” with DJJ. However, this language has not been construed to permit inter-agency information sharing in the past unless it is pursuant to a contractual relationship with DJJ, such as a county group home or treatment facility. The language adopted in the Senate would allow for the sharing of these court services records with local child welfare agencies when they have entered into an agreement with DJJ to provide coordinated services to juveniles who are the subject of the records. In addition, a floor amendment added authority for DJJ/Court Services to determine which reports/records are relevant to the treatment, services, or care of such juvenile and limit the sharing to only those relevant reports/records. The efficient sharing of these records is key to an effective crossover systems response. This bill would enable systems to identify crossover youth early on and share information to effect coordinated and collaborative interventions, case planning, and service delivery to benefit youth and their families. It would also lead to less duplication of information gathering and service delivery by discrete agencies. We are aware, and respectful, of the legislature’s efforts to protect the records of youth in our juvenile justice and child welfare systems. However, the current limits on the ability to share these records without a court order makes it almost impossible to identify particularly vulnerable youth in our child welfare and juvenile justice systems and engage in efficient, coordinated, collaborative case management on their behalf. This bill has the support of the City of Alexandria, Arlington Co., Fairfax Co., the City of Chesapeake, Loudoun Co., The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University, Voices for Virginia’s Children, Rise for Youth and the Virginia League of Social Services Executives. We are hopeful you will see value in this limited, narrowly tailored change and view it as part of ongoing efforts to reform the criminal justice system so it more efficiently and effectively serves the most vulnerable in our Commonwealth. This change will help create an efficient, effective way for youth engaged in both the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system to receive early intervention and coordinated case management services, which could impact these vulnerable youth at the earliest point that they enter these systems. Sarah Taylor City of Alexandria
SB1242 - Personal appearance by two-way electronic video and audio communication; entry of plea.
I urge you to support bill 1325. Grandparents are integral part of children’s lives. My grandmother was very influential in my life and I cannot imagine I would be the person that I am without her influence. Seventy percent of children are raised now by a grandparent or great grandparent at my local primary school. Grandparents need the support of legislation to keep them in those children’s lives and not just a whim when it’s convenient for those parents. We need to protect them legally from being removed out of a child’s life. This is damaging and detrimental to children. We need to protect these most vulnerable individuals that do not have a voice. Again, please consider the influence of your own grandparents and imagine your life without that. We need to surround children with more love 💕 not less!
SB1272 - Unrestorably incompetent defendant; disposition, capital murder charge, inpatient custody.
SB1329 - Summons; promises to appear after issuance.
The VACP supports SB 1329. We feel that the passage of this bill will eliminate unnecessary and avoidable confrontations with citizens. The refusal of an individual to sign a summons does not negate their responsibility to either prepay their fine or appear in court at the listed date and time. We feel this is a positive piece of legislation in line with other police reform bills. The VACP supports the concept of SB 1468 but continues to have concerns about language in a specific part of this bill. The bill states that we have to sign these certification forms if the applicant is a victim of a qualifying crime. There are two other reasons we can and are expected to deny signing a U-Visa certification form: if the victim failed to cooperate or they have been involved and convicted in serious crimes themselves. The language in question is found in lines 66-70, which states: “If the certifying official cannot determine whether the applicant is a victim of qualifying criminal activity or determines that the applicant does not qualify, the certifying official shall provide a written explanation to the person or the person's representative setting forth reasons why the available evidence does not support a finding that the person is a victim of qualifying criminal activity.” What needs to be added to the end of this sentence is “… or otherwise does not qualify.” This additional language is needed to provide chiefs or other certifying authorities the ability to deny signing these forms when they don’t meet any one of the qualifications, not just whether they are a victim of a certifying crime. For example, we cannot sign a form knowing a victim has not cooperated or refused to cooperate just because they were a victim. The code section needs to be more clear here to ensure we are not being required to put our signatures on a form when we know that someone fails one of the tests to qualify. We want to help our immigrant communities and provide them fair and consistent access to this federal process and we support requiring that agencies have a process in place to process these certification forms and publicly post these procedures. We do, however, want to ensure we are not making this process subject to additional abuse and fraud. We cannot sign these forms simply because they were a victim of a qualifying crime. They must also meet the other standards at the time that the forms are presented to us. From an integrity standpoint, we cannot put our signatures on a form that supports someone who we know is not cooperating
Virginia First Cities urges you to please support SB 1329. Placing an individual under arrest merely for refusing to sign a summons can quickly escalate into a much more dire situation, placing both the officer and the civilian in an unfortunate and unnecessary confrontation. When an individual refuses to sign a summons, the officer should have the option to indicate such refusal on the paperwork, provide a copy to the person, and conclude the incident. Virginia First Cities asks that Code of Virginia be amended to no longer require an arrest in this circumstance.