General Assembly passed COVID-19 relief, police & criminal justice reform priorities and budget
RICHMOND, VA—The Virginia General Assembly finished work on the remaining docket for the 2020 Special Session today. In all, 29 pieces of legislation which were part of the House Democratic Caucus’ priorities were passed by the House and the Senate. Both chambers also advanced an updated budget that funds the new, urgent measures passed during Special Session, while adjusting to the diminished revenue forecast caused by the COVID-19 recession and safeguarding Virginia’s AAA bond rating.
“I am proud of the hard work put in by the House Democrats, whose passion for public service shines brightly in the legislation they put forth and supported during Special Session,” said Democratic House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, who served as the patron for HB 5055 (strengthening civilian review boards). “Our new police and criminal justice reforms are about addressing overlooked hardships Virginians face. We are at the beginning of a new chapter for the Commonwealth, one that brings more humanity to our justice system.”
House Democrats outlined their agenda ahead of Special Session, prioritizing support for Virginians suffering physically and economically due to the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing inequities in the Commonwealth, especially in the areas of police and criminal justice reform. Specific measures included in these priorities were bills to strengthen the administration’s ability to procure PPE for Virginians and combat price gouging during a declared state of emergency, implement housing protections for Virginia families negatively impacted by COVID-19, require law enforcement officers to intervene or report when they see wrongdoing from colleagues, and limit the use of no-knock warrants and neck restraints.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly and Governor Ralph Northam placed a “pause” on the biennial budget passed during the 2020 Regular session, in order to assess COVID-19’s impact on forecasts for Virginia’s economy. One of the General Assembly’s principal tasks when called into Special Session was to reassess the FY2021-2022 budget, due to the effects of the pandemic-driven economic shock. After preparing and passing their respective budget bills, House and Senate conferees negotiated the best terms to keep the Commonwealth moving forward in light of challenges Virginians faced this year. House Appropriations Committee Chair Luke Torian led the House conference committee team, joined by fellow Democratic Delegates Mark Sickles, Betsy Carr, David Bulova, and Roslyn Tyler.
“Under reduced revenues and challenging circumstances for the people of Virginia, this budget offers a roadmap toward a safer, healthier, more just and equitable Commonwealth. During this Special Session our top priorities throughout the budgetary process were fair funding for health care, K-12 and higher education, and criminal justice reform. The current moment demands record investments in broadband access and virtual learning technology,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Luke Torian. “Accounting for these urgent needs, we took a holistic approach to reworking the biennial budget with the aim of protecting some of the original progress from the historic funding package passed last March. Our budget meets all these goals while maintaining fiscal responsibility.”
The General Assembly’s budget addresses the $2.8 billion revenue shortfall caused by the pandemic, but also restores funding to expand early childhood education and educator retention incentives. $26.9 million in federal funds have been directed to support local school districts’ short-term virtual learning needs and $94 million has been allocated to maintain affordable access to higher education.
The budget also prioritizes advancements in telehealth, supports a safe and secure general election, and sets aside $85 million from the General Fund for broadband infrastructure projects in response to Virginians’ need for Internet access due to COVID-19. In addition, the revised budget extends housing protections for Virginia residents during the pandemic, and provides funding for emergency child care programs and childcare provider stabilization. Funding has also been allocated to implement police and criminal justice reform legislation approved by the General Assembly during Special Session, including numerous bills addressing law enforcement conduct and training standards.
Here is the summary of the House Democrats’ non-budget legislation which passed during the 2020 Special Session:
- HB 5046 (Adams) Advancing innovations in telehealth.
- HB 5047 (Murphy) Prohibits manufacturers or distributors from selling necessary goods or services at an unconscionable price during a declared state of emergency.
- HB 5048 (Sickles) Mandating transparency requirements for congregate-care facilities during a public health emergency.
- HB 5059 (Willett) Providing certain liability protection for assisted living facilities in relation to COVID-19.
- HB 5050 (Helmer) Authorizes the Governor, during a declared state of emergency due to a communicable disease of public health threat, to purchase and distribute PPE to private, nongovernmental entities.
- HB 5064 (Price) Providing rent payment plan opportunities for tenants negatively impacted by COVID-19.
- HB 5068 (Ayala) Prohibiting garnishment of stimulus relief checks.
- HB 5087 (Tran) Removing the sunset clause on Virginia’s short-term compensation program (work-sharing) to facilitate eligibility for CARES Act funds.
- HB 5093 (Watts) Granting flexibility in enforcing executive orders through civil penalty. Under current law, the only penalty for such a violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
- HB 5106 (Cole) Protecting prospective tenants whose credit is negatively impacted by COVID-19.
- HB 5113 (Roem) Ensuring local school board participation in the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) no-cost breakfast and lunch program.
- HB 5115 (Price) Protecting housing security for individuals and families negatively impacted by COVID-19.
Policing and Criminal Justice Reform
- HB 5029 (McQuinn) Mandating the duty of one officer to intervene to stop use of excessive force by another officer.
- HB 5043 (Bourne) Creating a statewide Marcus Alert system.
- HB 5045 (Delaney) Banning sexual relations between officers and arrestees.
- HB 5051 (Simon) Requiring decertification of a law enforcement officer who is terminated or resigns for violation of law, serious misconduct in violation of statewide standards of conduct, or during an internal investigation.
- HB 5055 (Herring) Strengthening laws related to Citizen Review Panels.
- HB 5058 (Hope) Eliminates certain vehicle equipment offenses or the odor of marijuana as pretexts for a stop or search by law enforcement.
- HB 5049 (Helmer) Demilitarizing police departments by prohibiting the acquisition and use of certain weapons and military equipment by law enforcement agencies.
- HB 5062 (Mullin) Codifying prosecutorial ability to dismiss charges.
- HB 5069 (Carroll Foy) Banning the use of neck restraints by law enforcement except if immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person.
- HB 5072 (Lopez) Empowering the Attorney General to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations of police forces that appear to be violating constitutional rights, including unlawful discrimination.
- HB 5098 (Askew) Expanding the definition of hate crimes to include false 911 calls or reports to law enforcement against another person made on the basis of race, religious conviction, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, or national origin.
- HB 5099 (Aird) Prohibiting no-knock search warrants.
- HB 5104 (Price) Strengthening the assessments and review of prior law-enforcement employment records required before hiring law enforcement officers.
- HB 5108 (Guzman) Diversifying the Department of Criminal Justice Services’ Committee on Training.
- HB 5109 (Hope) Standardizing and enhancing training by criminal justice academies and establishing required in-service training standards for law enforcement officers.
- HB 5148 (Scott) Increasing earned sentence credits.
Making Virginia a more Equitable Place
- HB 5052 (Bagby) Codifying Juneteenth as an official holiday in the Commonwealth of Virginia.