Virginia’s NAACP remains focused on criminal justice in 2022 legislative agenda

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 3:21 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Virginia’s NAACP leadership spent time Thursday afternoon to share what it is calling an aggressive schedule for the 2022 legislative agenda.

According to Virginia State Conference NAACP President, Robert N. Barnette, Jr., the State Conference represents more than 100 chapter and branches statewide.

And while criminal justice remains a top priority for the group, leaders are also focused on education, healthcare, workforce and economic empowerment, pandemic response, voting rights, environmental and climate justice, housing and juvenile justice.

During Thursday’s Zoom call, Region 1 Vice President Gaylene Kanoyton of the Hampton Branch began by laying out the priorities for education, healthcare and the pandemic response. She said the NAACP stands against cuts and repurposing of K-12 public school funding and is focused on the expansion of Black history in the public school system.

“Last year Black history was expanded in the public school system,” Kanoyton said. “We want to ensure that Critical Race Theory, which is taught in the third year of law school, does not dilute this effort that has worked last year and has expanded Black history in our public schools.”

As the NAACP continues to monitor the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on black and brown communities, Kanoyton said they remained focused on the expansion and accessibility of vaccines and tests in those communities. Beyond that, she said those same communities need general public health support.

“We also want to expand public health in the rural and urban underserved population areas as well,” she said.

The NAACP leaders also said they remain aggressively focused on voting rights. Avoham Carpenter spoke on that issue, highlighting several bills the committee is watching, including House Bills 46, 24 and 185.

“The political action committee is concerned with some introduction of pieces of legislation that would do everything from reduce early voting days to eliminating permanent absentee voter lists and putting additional constraints on voters who vote by mail,” Carpenter said.

Meanwhile, he indicated the committee was looking to support Senate Bill 21, which he said they believe could give Virginians a real second chance at voting.

Other legislation that would be a top priority for the state conference would include making sure the funding earmarked for affordable public transportation was maintained, and in some cases, increased.

Speaking on the topic of environmental and climate justice, Karen Campblin said the goal was to support legislation that would ensure the health and sustainability of black and brown communities across the Commonwealth.

“We know that greenhouse gas emissions, the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, is the transportation sector,” she said. “And increasing access to affordable transportation and moving people away from cars into public transportation will not only help lower vehicles among travel but will also decrease the air pollutants that I had mentioned earlier that we’re trying to combat.”

She emphasized concern for the equitable transition to a clean economy which supports schools and also bolsters black and brown entrepreneurs.

On the topic of juvenile justice, Valerie Slater spoke about the work NAACP plans to emphasize treatment for addiction and mental health in juveniles and end racial disparities at that level, aiming for results-based policies.

“There’s legislation that’s looking to place an SRO in every middle and high school,” Slater said. “And so that is an avenue that is left to jurisdictions and it needs to remain in the hands of jurisdictions to determine whether or not that is something that they need. And specifically we’re looking to make sure that we are stopping the reliance on police officers in schools and instead ensuring that there is enough support staff to meet the needs of children.”

Kanoyton also discussed a desire to expand affordable housing for black and brown communities as well as efforts to maintain rental assistance, expand broadband and maintain support for small, minority and women-owned businesses.

Criminal justice, however, remains among one of the group’s top priorities.

“Of course we want to amend the state constitution to guarantee the right to vote for all is a topic, is a number one priority for us,” Kanoyton said. “But also enacting automatic expungement of criminal records for individuals without subsequent convictions and ensuring that there are no barriers to obtaining an expungement.”

You can find an in-depth breakdown of the legislative priorities here.

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