See below for some interesting/informative comments from State Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Loudoun/Fairfax) about criminal justice and policing reform; her explanation for why she couldn’t support Del. Jeff Bourne’s Qualified Immunity bill; her legislation dealing with private ICE detention centers owned and operated in Virginia, including in Farmville; etc.
The Special Session (Almost) Crossover Edition
We continue to work hard to work on our Special Session and I am listening to your voicemails, reading your messages and processing the responses I have received from this past week. There are many people who feel passionately about specific bills. We have 400 plus years of history where people have been abused, warehoused, disenfranchised.
Because of that fact, we continue to focus on criminal justice reform with the results that will make a powerful and meaningful difference. We started this process in June, drafting an ambitious slate of bills that begin to restore equity to every part of our justice system, from policing to the courtroom to our prison system and now many have passed the Senate.
I am particularly proud to have partnered with my colleague from Portsmouth, Delegate Don Scott, to carry the Senate companion of his earned time credits bill, which would enable our prisoners to earn increased time credits against their sentences for good behavior and rehabilitative efforts. I am also proud to champion a bill that places minimum sanitation and health inspection standards on private ICE detention facilities owned and operated in Virginia that would give localities and the Commonwealth some limited oversight by bringing those centers into the local definition of jails and corrections facilities.
Our full slate of Criminal Justice Reform bills now move on to the House of Delegates. And the House of Delegates’ bills are beginning to come before the Senate. We heard the first House bill which would repeal qualified immunity for law enforcement officers. As written, this would allow an individual to sue a law enforcement officer for violating their civil rights — without exception or limitation. It would strip away any legal defenses for our police officers without establishing any standard of conduct for them.
Unfortunately, I cannot support the bill as written. I absolutely do support the concept of holding the police accountable for the harm that they do when they use excess force, when they kill innocent individuals, when they misuse their position to harm others, and when they violate an individual’s civil rights. But we have to do this in a way that clarifies the legal standard. I also heard from hundreds of opponents, sharing many other concerns and raising questions around liability that must be addressed first so that the legislation is strong, effective, and addresses our ongoing needs for public safety and community trust. The bill will move to a newly created subcommittee so that we can continue to work on it. I look forward to the work over the next several months and hope to be able to support a revised version of it.
The Senate has just passed a series of fully vetted, strong initiatives around policing that I feel confident will make positive change and will protect individuals who currently feel they have no recourse or protection against police brutality. I have provided a summary of bills below.
As I look into the future, I want to see the nation where all of our residents are treated equitably. I want each of us to actively work to right the many wrongs of discrimination and prejudice. I want to live in a Virginia where everyone in every community feels confident that the law enforcement officers charged with keeping us safe means that everyone is treated with dignity and fairness and due process. I want to see more restorative justice. And I firmly stand with the Black Lives Matter community.
BRINGING EQUITY TO VIRGINIA POLICING
Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie E. Locke’s SB 5030 passed on a 21-19, party line vote. The bill represents a sweeping policing reform package, which includes provisions which will:
Prohibit No Knock Warrants (Breonna Taylor)
Ban Sex With Individuals Arrested by Law Enforcement
Prohibit Hiring of Officers Fired or Resigned During Use of Force Investigations
Expands Decertification Procedure for Law Enforcement Officers
Ban chokeholds and strangleholds (George Floyd)
Require Attempts at De-escalation Prior to Use of Force
Require Warnings Before Shots Fired
Require Law Enforcement to Exhaust All Other Means Prior to Using Deadly Force
Create Duty to Intervene by Fellow Law Enforcement Officers
Prohibit Shooting at Moving Motor Vehicles
Require Departments to Create a Use of Force Continuum
Require Comprehensive Reporting by All Law Enforcement Agencies Including Use of Force Data
Requires De-escalation Training and Standardizes Minimum Training
Eliminate Increased Law Enforcement Funding if Agency Fails to Obtain Accreditation
Senator Locke says it best, “Senate Democrats have spent the last three months fine tuning this bill, soliciting input from community advocates and stakeholders across the spectrum. We have addressed many concerns and issues and the bill has gone through several iterations. There are some who oppose the legislation who say that we should not allow what happened 1200 miles from here to dictate policy in Virginia, but we have blinders on if we think police misconduct does not exist here. We believe this bill brings equity to Virginia policing and we are proud of the package that was passed today.”
We also passed Senator Scott Surovell’s (D-Mount Vernon) SB 5032, which eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence for an assault and battery committed against a law enforcement officer while ensuring that the malicious wounding statute remains strong. This landmark piece of legislation protects Virginians with developmental and intellectual disabilities while restoring public trust and confidence in law enforcement.
Through Senate President pro tempore L. Louise Lucas’ (D-Portsmouth) SB 5024, we are establishing the authority of the Attorney General to investigate police departments that deprive persons of rights, privileges or immunities. The bill passed 21-18.
2. EXPANDING LOCAL AUTHORITY TO RESPOND TO MENTAL HEALTH AND REGULATE LAW ENFORCEMENT
Senator Ghazala Hashmi’s (D-Chesterfield) SB 5035 creates a local option for citizen review boards empowered to investigate, fire and/or discipline officers. The bill has cleared the committee process and is now making its way to the Senate floor.
Senator Jeremy McPike’s (D-Prince William) SB 5038 grants localities the authority to establish mental health mobile crisis co-response teams. The bill has cleared the committee process and is now making its way to the Senate floor.
3. RESTORING COURTS’ AND PROSECUTORS’ FLEXIBILITY TO EFFECT MERCY
Senator Surovell’s SB 5033 restores fairness to our courts by allowing prosecutors to drop charges for good cause. This measure cleared the Senate with broad bipartisan support on a 30-6 vote.
Senator Creigh Deeds’ (D-Bath County) SB 5043 enhances courts’ ability to expunge charges for dismissed charges, substance convictions, and pardoned offenses. This measure passed the Senate with bipartisan support on a 38-2 vote.
4. TACKLING RACIAL PROFILING IN LAW ENFORCEMENT
Senator Lucas led the fight against racial profiling by Virginia’s law enforcement officers by introducing SB 5029. By limiting the number of pretexts for which a driver can be pulled over, we are taking an important step toward eliminating racial profiling in traffic stops. This landmark piece of legislation also prohibits officers from being able to search a car on the grounds of the odor of marijuana alone. SB 5029 cleared the Senate on a 21-15 vote.
5. RESTORING EQUITY TO THE SENTENCING PROCESS
Senator Joe Morrissey’s (D-Richmond) SB 5007 restores equity to the sentencing process by empowering the defendant to choose the option of having their trial heard by a jury. This has been hailed as potentially one of the most transformative changes in criminal justice reform. The measure cleared the Senate on a 22-18 vote.
SB 5045, also introduced by Senator Surovell, requires the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission to prepare fiscal impact statements that reflect the potential costs and potential savings associated with any legislation relating to the Virginia prison system. This measure will bring fiscal transparency to the consideration of future justice reform measures. The bill cleared the Senate on a 21-13-1 vote.
6. RESTORING EQUITY TO THE VIRGINIA PRISON SYSTEM
Senator Jennifer Boysko’s (D-Fairfax) SB 5034 expands earned sentence credits for good behavior for nonviolent inmates. It also creates discretion for compassionate release for terminally ill or permanently disabled prisoners, as well as geriatric release. It creates a working group to collect and assess the data resulting from this legislation for the longer term, setting up the potential to expand the program to more individuals in the future. The bill has cleared the committee process and is now making its way to the Senate floor.
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