Virginia House, Senate ready for showdown over criminal justice reform

Virginia House, Senate ready for showdown over criminal justice reform
Virginia's State Senate, pictured here in a reconvened special session at the Virginia Science Museum, is set up for a showdown with the House of Delegates on criminal justice reform. (Source: Virginia Mercury)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - In a special session centered around policing reform, Virginia delegates passed several key changes on Friday, Sept. 4, and voted down another, setting up a negotiating showdown with the Virginia Senate on a final proposal.

On Friday, the House of Delegates passed its criminal justice reform package. The bills pass several key criminal justice changes protesters have called for: banning no knock warrants and chokeholds, and allowing prosecutorial discretion for commonwealth’s attorney. The bill also creates a decertification process for officers and holding them criminally responsible for not intervening to stop fellow officers using unlawful force, as well as six other changes.

One major request left out of the bill was qualified immunity reform. That bill failed to pass by a 48 to 47 margin, with three abstaining. While other votes passed along party lines, this one saw some House Democrats defect. The dissenting delegates raised concerns over localities being on the hook for police misconduct lawsuits. Supporters of the bill say that hope remains that it could be resurrected before the end of the session.

The passage of the Democrats’ bill package in the House sets up for a negotiation with the State Senate. There, Democrats have already passed their own omnibus bill with certain concessions to law enforcement groups. That bill would still allow chokeholds in cases where the officer felt their life was at risk. It would also allow no knock warrants if a judge signed off on it.

The Senate Amendments have already been rejected once by Democrats in the House. It remains to be seen if they will be reintroduced.

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