Opinion: Commentary: Special Session at ‘Crossover’

Opinion: Commentary: Special Session at ‘Crossover’

As of this week, it is safe to say that we are at the unofficial halfway point or “crossover” period of this action-packed and historic special session. As a reminder, crossover occurs during each year’s regular session, and it is the point in time in which bills from the House must “cross over” to the Senate for consideration by that body, and vice-versa. Although, since there is no set end-date for this special session there is no officially scheduled midpoint, or “crossover”. Essentially though, this is our current status—a virtual crossover. This week, the Senate holds their committee meetings to discuss the bills we passed in the House, and we will do the same for those Senate bills arriving to our House committees.

Most significantly, we are working hard on amending the Commonwealth’s revised biennial budget in the Appropriations Committee due to the reforcasting necessary because of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, with hearings and debate on each member’s most critical amendments they put forward for consideration. A draft of this budget should be ready for presentation to the General Assembly in the coming days.

In the beginning of this special session we laid out our agenda to provide impactful COVID-19 relief for the Commonwealth and implement necessary criminal justice and police reform. I can say confidently that we are well on our way to achieving these goals. We passed 39 bills through the House that will soon be taken up by the Senate, with the one election legislation that passed both chambers and already is signed into law by Governor Northam. I’ve listed many of these very important measures below along with their chief patron.

COVID-19 Relief

HB 5028 (Jones) Establishes a presumption of workers’ compensation eligibility for first responders, teachers, and other high-risk essential workers who die or become disabled due to COVID-19.

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

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) Provides rent payment plan opportunities for tenants negatively impacted by COVID-19.

HB 5068 (Ayala) Prohibits garnishments for stimulus relief checks.

HB 5106 (Cole) Protects the credit of tenants negatively impacted by COVID-19.

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

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

HB 5116 (Guzman) Requires businesses with over 25 employees to provide paid quarantine leave for their workers.

Police and Criminal Justice Reform

HB 5013 (Bourne) Eliminates qualified immunity for law enforcement officers.

HB 5043 (Bourne) Creates a statewide Marcus Alert system to ensure the presence of mental health professionals for calls related to mental health crises and wellness checks.

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

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

HB 5058 (Hope) Eliminates certain pretextual police stops.

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

HB 5112 (Levine) Mandates the duty of one officer to report the misconduct of another officer.

HB 5146 (Herring) Reforms Virginia’s laws related to automatic expungement of police and court records.

HB 5148 (Scott) Increases earned sentence credits for prisoners.

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

HB 5051 (Simon) Requires the decertification of a law enforcement officer who is terminated or resigns for violation of the law, violation of departmental policies or procedures, or during an internal investigation.

HB 5069 (Carroll Foy) Bans the use of neck restraints by law enforcement.

HB 5098 (Askew) Expands 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 5104 (Price) Strengthens the assessments and review of prior law-enforcement employment records required before hiring law enforcement officers.

HB 5109 (Hope) Standardizes and enhances training by criminal justice academies and establishes required in-service training standards for law enforcement officers.

Finally, HB 5103 introduced by Delegate Sickles, passed through the House, establishing absentee ballot drop-off locations, supporting pre-paid postage for absentee ballots, and making it safer to vote by mail-in absentee ballot. Its companion bill, SB 5120 (Howell), passed both bodies and is already signed by Governor Northam into law. As we approach this critical election, where more people than ever will request to vote absentee, it is important to continue to ensure that voting is accessible and safe to all citizens, and that voters can trust in the integrity of our elections.

As a reminder, absentee voting for the November 3rd election begins this Friday, Sept. 18. In-person absentee voting will begin then at the Fairfax County Government Center, and those who have already applied for absentee ballots will begin to receive them in the mail. To date, over 800,000 registered voters have requested absentee ballots. In the previous Presidential election of 2016, we had a total of 616,000 absentee ballots cast. Our satellite locations open October 14th and they will include ballot drop boxes where you can drop off your absentee ballot safely and securely. Visit https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation to register to vote, check or update your registration, and apply to vote absentee. Absentee ballots, to be counted, must be postmarked on or by Election Day and arrive at the Office of Elections by 12:00 p.m. on the Friday immediately after Election Day. To be safe, allow even more time for your ballot to arrive and mail as soon as possible.

To track the status of your absentee ballot application and ballot, view your Virginia Voter Record via the citizen portal at https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation. I doubt I need to remind you, but please don’t forget to vote! And, be safe out there wearing your mask and social distancing.