Governor Ralph Northam, Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, and Senator Mark Obenshain announced today a bipartisan compromise to raise the felony larceny threshold and adopt into law legislation to ensure that crime victims are paid the restitution duly owed to them.
The General Assembly will pass and the Governor will support and sign a package of five bills, including legislation introduced by Delegate Les Adams (R-Pittsylvania) and Senator David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke) to raise the felony larceny threshold to $500; two bills (HB484) introduced by Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) and Senator Obenshain (R-Rockingham) to ensure that restitution ordered by the courts is collected from defendants, and two bills (HB483) to ensure that that restitution that has been collected is finally delivered to crime victims.
“This compromise is a key breakthrough for commonsense criminal justice reform,” said Governor Northam. “Raising the felony larceny threshold will maintain Virginia’s tough position on criminal theft, while modernizing our law so that one mistake does not define a person’s entire life. I want to thank members of my team and leaders on both sides for proving yet again that Virginia is a place where we come together to get things done.”
“After several years of work to ensure crime victims are paid the restitution owed to them, I am thrilled that Governor Northam has agreed to sign this important legislation. Over the last several weeks, Chairman Rob Bell negotiated with Secretary Brian Moran at my direction to include this strong public safety measure in a compromise that increases the larceny threshold to $500,” said Speaker Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “We appreciate Governor Northam’s commitment to support and sign these important bills. I also want to thank Chairman Bell, Secretary Moran, and Senator Obenshain for their hard work on this agreement.”
HB 484 (Bell) will require probation officers to monitor payment of restitution and will require courts to review restitution before releasing a defendant from probation supervision or court oversight. In the event the defendant has not complied with the court’s restitution order, the court may impose punishment, schedule additional reviews, and take other steps to ensure that the restitution is paid. Governor Northam will send down a bill for the Senate to consider on the issue of restitution. A bill number and patron will be announced soon.
HB 483 (Bell) and ensures that all restitution that is collected shall be delivered to the victim by requiring Clerks of Court to annually transmit any restitution where the victim cannot be found, to the Victim Compensation Fund. The bill then provides the fund with two personnel who will work to locate victims and help them obtain their money.
A Crime Commission study found that there was over $230 million in restitution owed to victims across the Commonwealth, but was unpaid and overdue. More recently, WRIC8 reporter Kerri O’Brien found and research confirmed that $8 million in restitution was collected from defendants, but never delivered to the crime victims.
“We were shocked when we learned how much outstanding restitution was owed to crime victims,” said House Courts of Justice Committee Chairman Rob Bell (R-Albemarle). “This is money that crime victims need to pay their bills and rebuild their lives. They have to come to court, testify under oath, and many have to describe the most frightening moment of their life to strangers, only to be cross examined and scrutinized in the media. The least we can do is ensure that they receive the restitution that the justice system promises to them.”
“At $200, Virginia’s current felony larceny threshold is the most severe in the nation,” said Delegate Joe Lindsey (D-Norfolk). “By raising it, we are sending a clear message that theft is a serious crime, but stealing one phone or pair of boots should not ruin a person’s life.”
“I am pleased with this package, as it incorporates two critical policy goals,” said Senator Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Courts of Justice. “The victims of crime don’t have a large lobbying firm advocating on their behalf. By ensuring they will receive the restitution they deserve, including the millions collected that have gone unclaimed, we’re standing up for their interests. With the felony for threshold having been last modified in 1980, raising it nearly 40 years later is the right thing to do.”
“When this session began, Governor Northam asked the General Assembly to step away from partisan battles and work together to solve real problems,” said Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax). “This bipartisan compromise is a huge step in that important direction. Senate Democrats look forward to continuing our work on criminal justice reform and many other issues that will make life better for Virginians.”
“Having worked on this issue for the last three sessions, I am thrilled that Virginia is taking this step forward and happy that my bill will be included in this reform,” noted Senator David R. Suetterlein (R-Roanoke). “Taxpayers are not well-served when a young person who steals $200 sneakers becomes permanently labeled as a convicted felon. When Governor Northam reaffirmed his commitment to raising the threshold, I enthusiastically applauded. I’m clapping today, too, because these changes make Virginia better.”
“I am honored that the Governor asked me to work with members of both parties to negotiate a compromise that will accomplish a goal that many of us have been working on for decades” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “This legislation properly balances the need to keep Virginians safe with our responsibility to ensure that punishments match the crime.”