Special session for General Assembly to address criminal justice, ongoing pandemic

House, Senate lawmakers gavel in at 1 p.m.

Special session for General Assembly to address criminal justice, ongoing pandemic

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Lawmakers are convening in Richmond for the start of a General Assembly special session Monday to address the state’s biennial budget, which has been severely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Governor Ralph Northam is also proposing measures to help “advance equity, reform policing, and protect the safety, health, and welfare of Virginians during this crisis.”

“Virginians are hurting, and the Commonwealth is stepping up,” said Northam. “Our country is battling both a health crisis and an economic crisis at once, so Virginia is advancing new programs to help people stay in their homes, care for the ones they love, and feel safe in the community.”

Northam is projecting a $2.7 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years. The governor’s proposed budget ahead of the special session includes no cuts to critical services or state employee layoffs.

Safe, Affordable Housing

Northam is proposing $88 million in state funding to help combat evictions and expand affordable housing.

“These investments include a historic $85 million investment in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, which will complement federal CARES Act funding to expand access to affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and protect Virginians from eviction,” a release said.

He is also proposing $3.3 million in funding to establish an Eviction Prevention and Diversion Pilot Program to help reduce the number of evictions.

In addition, Northam is proposing that evictions be put on pause until at least April 30, 2021, tied to the requirement that landlords and tenants work together on a payment plan and seek out financial assistance.

The proposals also include a moratorium on utility disconnections for electric, water and natural gas utilities until 60 days after the current state of emergency ends.

Access to Broadband

According to a report, nearly 200,000 K-12 students and 60,000 college students across Virginia don’t have access to broadband at home. That’s why Northam says he is proposing $85 million to expand access to broadband for unserved communities, especially since many schools have implemented online learning.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Northam is proposing a $15 million investment in Virginia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which play a large role in reducing educational inequities.

Police and Criminal Justice Reform

The governor’s office released the following items that will be a priority:

  • Expand the criteria for which a law enforcement officer can be decertified, to include officers who are terminated due to law or policy violations or resign during an ongoing investigation;
  • Empower Virginia’s Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings when de-certifiable conduct is brought to the Board’s attention, regardless of written notice from a local law enforcement department;
  • Require law enforcement officers to intervene when they see a colleague engaging in or attempting to engage in unlawful use of force;
  • Standardize law-enforcement training across Virginia through development of statewide minimum training standards, curriculum, and lesson plans, to include use of force tactics;
  • Mandate information-sharing between hiring agencies and previous employers and strengthen the vetting process of newly-hired officers;
  • Create best practices for Civilian Review Panels and empower localities to establish review panels;
  • Diversify the Criminal Justice Services Board’s Committee on Training to include representatives from civil rights and community organizations, and require opportunities for public input into the development of training standards.

Northam says he plans to work closely with legislators on other measures not outlined, including proposals related to behavioral health, fair and free elections, and racial equity.

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