Newport News delegate works to address ‘barrier crime’ laws

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – A local delegate is working to address “outdated” barrier crime laws.

Del. Marcia “Cia” Price (D-Newport News) calls the barrier crime rules a dignity issue. Now, she is reaching across to aisle to uplift communities.

This rule prevents those convicted of some crimes from working in certain career fields.

The bipartisan bill was introduced in the House of Delegates by Price and in the Senate by Sen. Todd E. Pillion (R) in January 2024.

“We were finding that people were getting court-involved because of the addiction that they were experiencing,” Price said. “Some of those crimes were actually preventing them from employment 20, 30 years later, even though they had gone through recovery, [and] their lives changed around. We want to make sure that those that had been in the depth of addiction, they’re often the ones that are best poised to help others from experiencing some of those same things. But we couldn’t employ them in order to work as peer-counselors to help prevent others from going through it.”

The bill addresses barrier crime rules for adults looking to work with those battling addiction or mental health issues three years after a conviction.

  • HB 1269 Barrier crimes; adult substance abuse and mental health services, exception. Barrier crimes; adult substance abuse and mental health services; exception. Creates an exception to the barrier crime rules for employment at an adult substance abuse or mental health treatment program that permits persons convicted of certain offenses to be eligible for employment if such conviction occurred more than three years prior to the date of their application for employment.

Price added that Democrats have been working to address ongoing issues with addiction for years.

“Areas like Hampton Roads are not new to the problems of addiction,” she said. “Now that the opioid crisis has found its way into the suburbs and the western part of our Commonwealth, other people are experiencing what we’ve been talking about all along.”

Wahid Shabazz, a licensed mental health professional in residency, shared his testimony in front of a House subcommittee.

“I’m going for licensure as a licensed professional counselor (LPC),” Shabazz said. “I’m also a certified anger management specialist.”

Shabazz offers life coaching through his organization ‘A Firm Foundation, Inc. Helping Others Help Themselves.”

“I’m about giving back and paying it forward,” Shabazz said.

In 1992, Shabazz was convicted of a burglary.

“Back then, when I used to drink, I had three bottles of Cisco,” Shabazz said. “They used to call it ‘liquid crack.’ That’s how potent Cisco [it was]… I had drunk beer throughout the day and by nighttime I had drank three bottles of Cisco. Someone told me they used to clean at a car dealership and there was a safe there that they never closed. It had $50,000 in it. When I’m drunk, I go in there like, ‘I’m going to go get that money.’ [I] trip the sound on an alarm. I got caught. I was convicted.”

He told 10 On Your Side that moving forward after a criminal conviction is often made harder by barrier crime laws.

“When you deny people certain opportunities, what do they do? They go back to what they were used to,” Shabazz said, “crime, self-medication, all these things that lead to relapse and recidivism.”

Now, he has turned his life around, restoring his voter and gun rights, yet the nonviolent crime from the 1990s is still hanging over his head.

“If I can help lighten the load for people that are coming after me,” Shabazz said, “but also, continue to move out the obstacles and the barriers that are still in my way, that’s what I’m [going to] do.”

Next, the bill will move to the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services in the coming weeks.

“If someone is best poised to help someone else, we need to be encouraging that instead of creating barriers for that,” Price said.

The Senate version SB 626 Barrier crimes — adult substance abuse and mental health services, hiring criteria to screen applicants — will move to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

Price believes both bills will help heal communities.

“This is this is a public health perspective on our crime issues, on our violence issues,” Price said. “We have a big problem with mental health and behavioral health that is fueling that. This is helping people jump into the prevention and intervention game.

“Anything that we can do to break down the stigmas of what people have experienced in order to uplift and amplify the work that they really are doing in the community, I think that’s a great move in the right direction.”

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