Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican lawmakers reached a deal to soften the penalty for people caught stealing lesser-dollar items in Virginia.
"I'm proud to announce a compromise on raising Virginia's felony threshold from $200 to $500," said Northam.
Thursdays announcement from the governor was met with applause. This historic bill's passing is the first step the Commonwealth has made since the 1980s to address the larceny threshold problem.
"According to the bureau of labor statistics, $200 in 1980 had the same buying power $634 has today," said Northam.
Under the previous statute, committing larceny of $200 or more could leave you with a grand larceny charge and felony conviction, facing upwards of 20 years in a state prison.
With this new legislation, a crime of up to $500 would only get you a petty larceny charge and misdemeanor conviction, with the possibility of serving time in a local jail.
All of this is in an effort to protect individuals from a life-altering felony conviction.
"By keeping this in the misdemeanor range, then there's an opportunity for folks - and particularly young people who might commit a larceny - to be able to get their life cleaned up afterwards," said Dana Schrad, Executive Director of Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.
While the Virginia Chiefs of Police supports that aspect of the law, the group is worried the threshold raise would leave businesses more at risk for theft.
"If someone knows that they can essentially steal more, take more from that business up to $500 in value, that they're just going to be facing a misdemeanor conviction and possibly no jail time at all...and so they feel like it's a disincentive for folks to not commit those larcenies against their businesses," said Schrad.
Despite concerns, Northam says that he will continue to be tough on crime.
"Let me be clear: we want to remain tough on crime in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but it is unjust that a pair of shoes or a phone could send someone to prison with a felony conviction on their record for life," said Northam.
Northam went on to say this bill is an example of bipartisan compromise. As part of the deal, Northam says he will support Republican legislation to put new checks in place, to ensure court-ordered restitution is paid to crime victims.
Right now, Virginia's felony threshold is tied with New Jersey for the lowest in the country.
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