Opinion: Commentary: Special Session: Budget Plus Robust Health, Public Safety, and Equity Reforms

Opinion: Commentary: Special Session: Budget Plus Robust Health, Public Safety, and Equity Reforms

After two months of hard work by legislators and our staff, the historic 2020 Special General Assembly Session has recessed until we finalize the budget after the November election. While we may not have been in session every single day, the time from the commencement of the special session on Aug. 18 until recess on Oct. 16 was 60 days — the typical length of our “long sessions” during budget years.

Last Friday evening, we passed our amended budget, signed off on conference reports, and sent legislation to the Governor for his signature. Unless otherwise provided for, the bills that are signed into law by Governor Northam in the coming weeks will go into effect on March 1st (the first day of the fourth month following the adjournment of the special session).

We are now “recessed” until after the November election; after that time we will return to consider any of Governor Northam’s amendments and vetoes to the budget and legislation we passed, and then officially adjourn. Indeed, we have a busy couple of months ahead of us as we complete our special session work and prepare for the upcoming regular session in January.

Convening this special session virtually was truly a herculean effort on behalf of the information technology professionals in the House Clerk’s office, who built and operated a successful system that allowed for safe remote participation to include the public’s participation, and with remote voting by legislators.

Thanks to their efforts, we were able to accomplish our important work for Virginians all the while convening safely and efficiently through virtual means — and with no outbreaks of coronavirus.

Virginians were counting on us to meet the moment and provide for relief during this health crisis, and I am proud to say that we accomplished these goals. We have passed a fiscally responsible balanced budget without dipping into the rainy day fund, with robust health, public safety, and equity reforms. Virginia is now a model to the nation for how meaningful reform can happen, especially during a pandemic crisis.

BELOW IS A SUMMARY of just the House Democrats’ non-budget, COVID-19 Relief and Policing, and Criminal Justice reform legislation which passed during the 2020 Special Session and is headed to the Governor’s desk:

HB 5046 (Adams) Advancing innovations in telehealth.

HB 5047 (Murphy) Prohibits manufacturers or distributors from selling necessary goods or services at an unconscionable price during a declared state of emergency.

HB 5048 (Sickles) Mandating transparency requirements for congregate-care facilities during a public health emergency.

HB 5059 (Willett) Providing certain liability protection for assisted living facilities in relation to COVID-19.

HB 5050 (Helmer) Authorizes the Governor, during a declared state of emergency due to a communicable disease of public health threat, to purchase and distribute PPE to private, nongovernmental entities.

HB 5064 (Price) Providing rent payment plan opportunities for tenants negatively impacted by COVID-19.

HB 5068 (Ayala) Prohibiting garnishment of stimulus relief checks.

HB 5087 (Tran) Removing the sunset clause on Virginia’s short-term compensation program (work-sharing) to facilitate eligibility for CARES Act funds.

HB 5093 (Watts) Granting flexibility in enforcing executive orders through civil penalty. Under current law, the only penalty for such a violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

HB 5106 (Cole) Protecting prospective tenants whose credit is negatively impacted by COVID-19.

HB 5113 (Roem) Ensuring local school board participation in the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) no-cost breakfast and lunch program.

HB 5115 (Price) Protecting housing security for individuals and families negatively impacted by COVID-19.

HB 5029 (McQuinn) Mandating the duty of one officer to intervene to stop use of excessive force by another officer.

HB 5043 (Bourne) Creating a statewide Marcus Alert system.

HB 5045 (Delaney) Banning sexual relations between officers and arrestees.

HB 5051 (Simon) Requiring decertification of a law enforcement officer who is terminated or resigns for violation of law, serious misconduct in violation of statewide standards of conduct, or during an internal investigation.

HB 5055 (Herring) Strengthening laws related to Citizen Review Panels.

HB 5058 (Hope) Eliminates certain vehicle equipment offenses or the odor of marijuana as pretexts for a stop or search by law enforcement.

HB 5049 (Helmer) Demilitarizing police departments by prohibiting the acquisition and use of certain weapons and military equipment by law enforcement agencies.

HB 5062 (Mullin) Codifying prosecutorial ability to dismiss charges.

HB 5069 (Carroll Foy) Banning the use of neck restraints by law enforcement except if immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person.

HB 5072 (Lopez) Empowering the Attorney General to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations of police forces that appear to be violating constitutional rights, including unlawful discrimination.

HB 5098 (Askew) Expanding the definition of hate crimes to include false 911 calls or reports to law enforcement against another person made on the basis of race, religious conviction, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, or national origin.

HB 5099 (Aird) Prohibiting no-knock search warrants.

HB 5104 (Price) Strengthening the assessments and review of prior law-enforcement employment records required before hiring law enforcement officers.

HB 5108 (Guzman) Diversifying the Department of Criminal Justice Services’ Committee on Training.

HB 5109 (Hope) Standardizing and enhancing training by criminal justice academies and establishing required in-service training standards for law enforcement officers.

HB 5148 (Scott) Increasing earned sentence credits.