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Governor signs bill raising felony theft threshold

(AP) Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation that will soften the penalties for people caught stealing smaller-dollar items.

The Democratic governor announced April 4 that he’d approved a bill that raises the state’s felony theft threshold from $200 to $500.

The bill’s sponsor Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, said in a statement on Twitter that he believed it was time for the update.

“Taxpayers are not well-served when a young person who steals a $200 coat becomes permanently labeled as a convicted felon,” Suetterlein said.

However, he noted that the bill will not serve as a free pass for theft.

“When SB105 takes effect in July, those convicted of stealing less than $500 will still be subjected to serious penalties, including up to a year in jail &/or a fine up to $2,500,” Suetterlein said. “But they will not face the additional punishment inherent with being classified as a convicted felon.

 Virginia has kept its felony bar at $200 since 1980 and is tied with New Jersey for the lowest in the country. Northam said raising the threshold was a legislative priority, but had previously pushed for it to be set at $1,000.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics Inflation Rate Calculator shows that prices in 2018 are about 202.2 percent higher than they were in 1980 when the threshold was last changed. That means that $200 in the year 1980 would have bought the equivalent of what $604.35 would buy in 2018.

Northam expressed his gratitude to members of both parties for agreeing to what he called “commonsense criminal justice reform.”

“I applaud leaders from both sides of the aisle for coming together to get this done for the Commonwealth,” Northam said in a statement on Twitter.

House Republicans had blocked efforts to raise the threshold by any amount in past years but agreed to a $500 limit in exchange for Northam’s support of legislation overhauling the state’s criminal restitution system.

That bill, sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, was signed into law March 19.

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