RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia House of Delegates Courts of Justice committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would make Attorney General Mark Herring’s Office of Civil Rights permanent.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring created the office as an expansion of the existing Division of Human Rights. It focuses on protecting Virginians from discrimination and other civil rights issues. If passed, the office will be part of the Office of Attorney General.

“I have placed the protection and expansion of Virginians’ civil rights at the center of our mission and made it a focus of all that we do. Now, it’s time to lock-in that commitment by making my Office of Civil Rights a permanent feature of the Office of Attorney General so that Virginians will always know their attorney general will stand up and fight for them,” said Herring. 

“I want every Virginian to know that I will always defend their rights, and wherever we find discrimination and oppression, we will put a stop to it. No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, or who you love, as your attorney general, I will have your back and I will fight for you,” he continued.

He said he office will work to protect Virginians from discrimination, and to secure and expand the rights of all Virginians.
“I’ve brought a completely different vision of what an attorney general can and should be doing, that the attorney general is really the people’s lawyer, fighting for them, looking for ways to use the law to help protect Virginians, and keep them safe and protect their rights.”

“If you have been turned down when you go to rent an apartment, because of your race, or you have been turned down for alone, because of sexual orientation, or any type of discrimination like that, in employment, in housing and public accommodations, it means that you could go to the, the attorney general’s office, make a complaint. And we will take every single case seriously, we will investigate it and we will fight for you and make sure that discrimination wherever we see it comes to an end,’ he explained.

Local NAACP leader Gaylene Kanoyton says this will impact every minority community in the commonwealth.
“The extra layer of protection is what it is it’s an extra layer of protection is an extra layer of advocacy. You know, and so it was right there in the attorney general’s office. I mean, of course, that’s what we do with the NAACP. You know, we want to protect people’s civil rights. I mean, that’s, that’s what we’re here for, you know, but to have an Attorney General to have an office of the civil rights is a bit is huge,” she said.

HB2147 says that the Office of Civil Rights will exist “to investigate and bring actions to combat discrimination,” and will carry out the Commonwealth’s updated statement of policy on the civil and human rights of all Virginians:

The Commonwealth’s revised policy on civil and human rights states that:

“It is the policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia to provide for equal opportunities throughout the Commonwealth to all its citizens, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, familial status, marital status, or status as a veteran and, to that end, to prohibit discriminatory practices with respect to employment, places of public accommodation, including educational institutions, and real estate transactions by any person or group of persons, including state and local law-enforcement agencies, in order that the peace, health, safety, prosperity, and general welfare of all the inhabitants of the Commonwealth be protected and ensured.”

The Office of Civil Rights works to expand and protect Virginians’ civil rights in many ways, including:

  • Conducting Pattern or Practice Investigations to Identify and Eliminate Unconstitutional and Illegal Policing
  • Combating LGBTQ and Gender-based Discrimination
  • Combating Housing Discrimination
  • Combating Employment Discrimination
  • Addressing Discrimination in Places of Public Accommodation
  • Protecting the Rights of Expectant and New Mothers

Under Herring’s leadership, the Office of Civil Rights includes thirteen staff members, including seven attorneys, after inheriting an office of just four employees, with only one attorney, when he first took office in 2014.