COLUMN — A review of a lengthy special session

Published 3:04 am Thursday, October 22, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

This session has been remarkable for many things, including its length, procedural irregularities, and the bad legislation that has been produced. Below is a list of the worst of the worst legislation introduced by the new Democrat majority this session.

HB 5013 Eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement officers.

This bill would have made police officers the targets of frivolous lawsuits for benign police conduct. Officers could lose their homes, their life savings, and their livelihoods, along with their job. This bill was so poorly written, and carried such significant consequences for law enforcement officers, that even Senate Democrats wouldn’t go along with it.  Thankfully, this one will not become law.

HB 5049 Demilitarizing police departments by prohibiting the acquisition and use of certain weapons by law enforcement agencies.

This bill was designed to take effective tools and tactics away from police officers. As it was written, it would have forbidden the use of rubber bullets or tear gas as less-lethal methods in dangerous situations, causing the use of force continuum to move toward the more lethal options. As it passed, it prohibits police from acquiring MRAPs, which is a term for United States military light tactical vehicles.  These are often used in flood recues. This bill makes police and our communities less safe because Democrats do not think law enforcement should have enhanced equipment or be able to use less lethal deterrents.

HB 5058 Eliminating certain pretextual police stops.

This legislation is the poster child for the motto, “We vote for bills, not ideas.” In an attempt to end police stops for things like obstructed views and expired registrations, Democrats managed to mangle the law. As passed, this bill outlaws stops for driving with no headlights at night. This could be especially dangerous for new drivers. Democrats rushed this legislation and shut down debate. Now they’re the party that voted for people to drive with no headlights at night, which includes a lot of drunk drivers.

HB 5099 Prohibiting no-knock search warrants.

This legislation sought to address an issue that rarely happens in Virginia. As law enforcement stated, these warrants are rarely used and are to protect both the suspect and law enforcement from harm. Police will now be required to announce their presence before serving search warrants — only in the daytime — giving suspects time to dispose of evidence, or worse, arm themselves. This will lead to more armed confrontations, with potentially deadly outcomes.  Again, no-knock warrants were already exceedingly rare. This is one more tool that police will no longer be able to use to keep us safe.

HB 5146 Reforming Virginia’s laws related to expungement of police and court records.

This bill would have created a system of automatic criminal record expungement for certain crimes. It died because House Democrats could not accept anything other than automatic expungement — asking people to apply for expungement was a bridge too far. Justice does call for second chances, but it also calls for consequences. Criminals don’t get to walk away from every aspect of their pasts without putting forward some effort.

HB 5148 Increasing earned sentence credits.

This bill was monstrous as introduced, allowing some truly heinous criminals to cut their sentences by nearly half. As it passed, it is still a back door attack on Virginia’s truth in sentencing laws. We have a low crime rate and lowest recidivism rate for a reason — our system of locking up dangerous criminals works. This bill weakens that system and will allow dangerous people back on the streets faster.

SB 5007 Criminal cases; sentencing reform.

This bill changes 224 years of legal practice in Virginia, in which juries serve as the conscience of our communities. If a suspect chooses to be tried by a jury, currently, they are also sentenced by that jury — a practice that has led to decades-low crime. Now, the defendant will be able to choose a jury trial but be sentenced by the court. This removes the community — a jury of their peers — from determining how much a crime is worth. This law will cost immense amounts of money and jam our courts with cases as more and more criminals choose to roll the dice with a jury, knowing they won’t face that jury’s sentence.

SB 5032 Assault and battery; penalty.

This bill would have declared open season on our law enforcement officers and received broad condemnation from law enforcement and citizens. This would have meant that assault on a law enforcement officer would only carry a six-month mandatory minimum sentence when the officer was injured. Other attacks would be simple misdemeanors. Our law enforcement officers need all the protection we can give them — including the knowledge that if someone attacks them, they will likely face serious consequences. The only thing that kept this from becoming law was a fortuitous committee vote. We have no doubt it will return in January.

State Budget Action

Last Friday’s budget action should have been the final votes this chamber must cast on the budget until the reconvened session. Yet Democrats have still found a way to slow the process through infighting and obstinance.

The revised budget is done, but it won’t be sent to the governor until closer to Election Day.
House and Senate Democrats couldn’t agree on language in the budget that would clarify the redistricting process if Amendment 1 is successful in November. House Democrats don’t want it in the budget, Senate Democrats do. To break the stalemate and because the governor has seven days to act once he receives the bill, they agreed to send it to the governor closer to Election Day. He will then send the language back down as an amendment if the measure passes. So once again Virginians must wait while the new Democrat majority in Richmond fights among themselves.