Opinion: Commentary: The House at the Half

Opinion: Commentary: The House at the Half

The House of Delegates is probably half-way through its virtual Special Session. At least the House has debated all the bills introduced by its members with the exception of the budget that is always last to be considered. Those bills have been sent to the Senate and await their consideration while the House will now begin deliberations on the bills the Senate has passed.

As I have indicated in recent columns this special session has been a busy one as special sessions go. Even more unusual, it has been conducted for the first time ever in a virtual environment. The House has passed 37 bills, all of which are of considerable importance and consequence. These bills will fund safe and secure alternatives for Virginia voters to return absentee ballots during the upcoming 2020 general election, implement housing protections for Virginia families negatively impacted by COVID-19, ban the use of no-knock-warrants and neck restraints, require law enforcement officers to intervene or report when they see wrongdoing from colleagues, and streamline the process for localities to remove, relocate, or alter Confederate statues and other war monuments on public property.

To understand fully what some of the bills, described here in generalities, will do, go to https://lis.virginia.gov to review the specific language and provisions. To make voting easier during the pandemic, HB5103 permits localities to establish ballot drop-off locations, supports pre-paid postage for absentee ballots, and makes it safer and easier to vote absentee. HB5116 requires large employers to provide limited paid quarantine leave for Virginia workers. HB5028 establishes a presumption of worker compensation eligibility for first responders, teachers, and other high-risk essential workers who die or become disabled due to COVID-19. HB5047 combats price gouging for personal protective equipment. There were other COVID-related bills.

Some of the bills passed in the House in the area of police and criminal justice reform are far reaching. HB5013 eliminates qualified immunity for law enforcement officers. HB5043 created a statewide Marcus Alert system for those in a mental health crisis. HB5045 bans sexual relations between officers and arrestees. HB5058 eliminates certain pretextual police stops. HB5049 demilitarizes police departments by prohibiting the acquisition and use of certain weapons by police departments. HB5090 expands disclosure of law enforcement criminal incidence information files for closed or cold cases under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. HB5148 increases earned sentence credits for incarcerated persons. HB5099 prohibits the use of no-knock warrants. HB5146 reforms state law related to expungement of police and court records. HB5069 bans the use of neck restraints by law enforcement. HB5098 expands the definition of hate crimes to include false 911 calls. HB5109 standardizes and enhances training by criminal justice academies and establishes required in-service training standards for law enforcement officers.

These are some of the bills that have passed the House at half-time. All have been subject to compromises of the legislative process and require a careful review of the current text to understand their implications. They are still subject to the scrutiny of the State Senate, possible conference committee action, and signature of the Governor.