Opinion: Commentary: Preventing Illegal Evictions and Security in State Buildings

Opinion: Commentary: Preventing Illegal Evictions and Security in State Buildings

If one tuned into the Senate floor stream for the first time last week, they might think much of the Senate’s work is solely focused on dealing with the actions of just one member -- Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield). Over several days, hours-long debate was held over a resolution to censure Sen. Chase, whose participation in the rally that led to the attempted overthrow of our federal government, and her public support of those seditionists, have made headlines. The censure eventually passed by a vote of 24-9, with several Republican colleagues speaking in support of the measure, but then walking off the floor when the time came to cast a vote.

It is my hope that prolonged debate does not overshadow the legislative work being done in Richmond, of which, even during this short session, there is a great deal. With only one week of committee work left on Senate bills, I was glad to move several important measures forward to the floor. These measures include legislation to create serious repercussions for illegally evicting someone (SB1215) and a bill which will codify a ban on dangerous weapons from state-owned buildings and Capitol Square (SB1381).

Despite a clear statutory prohibition against “do-it-yourself” evictions, the number of unlawful evictions executed by landlords without any due process for tenants or judicial oversight rose dramatically during the COVID-19 crisis. Unscrupulous landlords have used illegal lockouts and utility shut-offs to evict tenants, knowing that the only penalty that could be imposed on them was an order to allow the tenant back into the home and possibly paying that tenant’s attorney’s fees. One legal aid attorney who spoke in favor of this legislation said they have been fighting this problem since 1990. That is why Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) and I introduced legislation to create strong penalties for illegal evictions: four month’s rent or a $5,000 payment, whichever is greater, along with attorney’s fees, so that the cases are taken up, and a requirement that a judge hear cases involving illegal evictions within five days, ensuring an immediate response to someone losing their home. This legislation addresses the bad actors in the rental industry, and enhances tenants’ rights, which is why it’s supported by the Apartment and Office Association, the Virginia Apartment Management Association, the Virginia Realtors, and the Virginia Poverty Law Center. Del. Hudson’s bill has passed out of the House and is headed to the Senate. My bill passed out of committee unanimously with one abstention and is headed to the Senate floor.

As we saw last month in Washington, there is a dangerous faction of extremists that have been emboldened over the last few years to the point that they felt comfortable attempting to breach the nation’s Capitol, some calling for the execution of members of Congress who they did not agree with. Violence and intimidation have no place in the public square, which is why I introduced legislation to codify a ban on dangerous weapons, including firearms, from state buildings and extend this ban to Richmond’s Capitol Square grounds. The violence in Washington last month was not a one off -- last year when a large pro-gun rally occurred in Richmond, there was no violence -- likely only because the FBI arrested several would be rally-goers armed with 1,500 rounds of ammunition who planned to “literally hunt people” according to court filings.

For those who have not yet come to Richmond to lobby, you may not realize just how many people visit the legislature during a normal year. On a given day, thousands of people come to lobby their legislators, hold rallies, and tour the Capitol. Children, college students, doctors, business owners, disability advocates, and advocates from across the political spectrum crowd the hallways, bumping into one another in their haste to get to their next appointment with a lawmaker. Virginia’s Capitol police force has enough trouble keeping the hallways orderly and ensuring the safety of all citizens when so many people crowd the building. They don’t need the added concern of a firearm accidentally discharging, causing a panic. These concerns aren’t just hypothetical -- some years ago, a delegate's firearm accidentally discharged, only stopped from entering a fellow delegate's office by a bullet proof vest on the back of his door. For these reasons I was glad that this bill advanced out of committee this week and is headed to the floor.

I look forward to passing this legislation through the House and sending it to the Governor’s desk, along with several other bills to address inland flooding, access to medical care, and marijuana legalization, in the coming weeks.

It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District,