By Zach Armstrong
DINWIDDIE, Va -- Governor Ralph Northam was joined by Delegate Lacherise Aird (D-63) at Dinwiddie High School June 3 to sign HB1930 into law which prohibits public colleges and universities from asking applicants about their criminal justice history.
The bill permits colleges to inquire into the criminal history of individuals who have been admitted but yet to enroll at the institution and withdraw an offer of admission to individuals who the institution subsequently determines to pose a threat to the institution's community. The bill has an effective date of Jan. 1, 2022 and exempts Virginia Military Institute.
The bill was introduced three years in a row by Del. Aird and passed the House of Delegates earlier this year by a vote of 55-42 and in the Senate by a vote of 21-18.
Dinwiddie Public Schools Superintendent Kari Weston introduced the Governor by saying “I believe the best days are upon us and we have a responsibility to have that happen, and I believe that what will happen today is a step in that direction,”
As Gov. Northam spoke in front of Dinwiddie students, members of the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors and the Dinwiddie School Board at the signing, he stated that “this piece of legislation is monumental … its all about second chances, we’re all human, we all make mistakes and we want people to have second chances,”
“What has happened too often is that box has been used to reject people from schools or jobs before they can get their foot in the door,” said Northam. “If you commit a crime, you should serve your time… but after that we want you to not just rebuild your life but build a better life and you can't do that if we keep holding that conviction over your head and use it to put up barriers in front of you,”
Gov. Northam cited how, when people see that question, they often will become deterred from applying. The Governor also made a point about how education reduces recidivism and opens the door to greater job opportunities along with access to job training, housing and transportation.
As Del. Aird spoke at the signing, she told a story that influenced her to introduce the legislation.
While studying at a program, Del. Aird was listening to a woman tell her story about not checking the box on the application asking about her criminal history because she feared she would automatically be denied admission although she was a straight A chemistry major. When the school learned she lied about having a criminal history, she was asked to leave the institution.
Gov. Northam also made reference to the assistance and incentives that incarcerated individuals in Virginia have to enter the workforce.
“When anybody is incarcerated we immediately start working with education which we work also termed ‘workforce training’, there's also programs while individuals are incarcerated to go out and work in certain businesses … all of these things are important for people when they leave a penitentiary so that we can make sure to keep those recidivism rates low.” said Northam.