Move to repeal Virginia law on organized retail theft blocked
The National Conference of State Legislatures said that at least two dozen states had enacted laws to address organized retail theft.
A move to repeal a new Virginia law that makes organized retail theft a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison was defeated for this year after members of a House subcommittee voted Monday to send the bill to the Virginia State Crime Commission for further study.
The new law, which went into effect in July, was passed by the state legislature last year with bipartisan support, including from Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and state Attorney General Jason Miyares. It makes it a Class 3 felony for anyone to conspire or act in concert with one or more people to steal retail merchandise with a value exceeding $5,000 in a 90-day period, with the intent to sell the stolen goods for profit.
The Virginia law was passed at a time when viral videos on social media showed groups of thieves brazenly stealing bags of merchandise from stores around the country. The National Conference of State Legislatures said that at least two dozen states had enacted laws to address organized retail theft.
Some Democrats and criminal justice advocates opposed the bill, arguing that it could ensnare people who resort to stealing to survive, including low-income people, the homeless and those struggling with addiction.
Brad Haywood, a public defender who founded Justice Forward Virginia, a group that advocates for criminal justice reform, said claims that retail theft has reached crisis levels in recent years have been exaggerated. Last month, the nation's largest retail trade group pulled back on a claim that organized retail crime accounted for nearly half of the $94.51 billion in so-called industry shrink, which measures overall loss in inventory, including theft. It’s unclear how much money retailers broadly are losing due to organized retail crime or if the problem has worsened in recent years.
Haywood, who supported the repeal effort, said he wishes the bill would have received a full hearing but said he plans to push again next year for repeal.
“I think we lost an opportunity to essentially demand better from people trying to exploit the fear in criminal justice,” he said.
Del. Fernando “Marty” Martinez, the lead sponsor of the bill, said he asked for the repeal bill to be sent to the crime commission because the new law has only been in effect for six months and its effectiveness is not yet clear.
“I would like more data on whether the bill is working. I would like more data on why is it a class  felony,” Martinez said.