Virginia House passes ban on police choke holds, votes down qualified immunity reform

Virginia House passes ban on police choke holds, votes down qualified immunity reform
Virginia Capitol. (Source: Capital News Service)

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a wide-ranging package of police reform legislation Friday that would establish a blanket prohibition on chokeholds and create criminal penalties for officers who fail to intervene in a colleague’s unlawful use of force.

The bills, which drew strong opposition from Republican lawmakers and in some cases go further than similar bills advancing in the Senate, mostly passed on party-line votes.

Only one of the 12 measures failed when five Democrats voted with GOP lawmakers to oppose a bill rolling back qualified immunity for police, which often shields officers from lawsuits alleging misconduct.

The barrier to civil claims has drawn growing scrutiny amid nationwide protests following the death George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Virginia legislation was endorsed by Democratic leaders in the House and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

“Really it boils down to — are we going to afford Virginians who find themselves on the business end of excessive force that ability to better and more fairly fight for some redress?” said Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, who proposed the measure, which would have allowed civil suits alleging constitutional violations to proceed in state court, effectively side-stepping the federal judicial doctrine.

The proposal drew strong opposition from law enforcement groups, who argued it would result in a flurry of frivolous lawsuits and make it difficult to recruit and retain officers. A similar measure was already defeated in the Senate, where Democrats also hold a majority.

“All of us want to get rid of bad cops,” said Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach. “The problem with this bill is it is going to have the unintended consequence of hurting good cops.”

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