Dangerous Police Reform Bills Keep Moving In Virginia House


The House Committee on Public Safety advanced multiple bills from the Senate relating to police reform on Monday as the 2020 special session enters its fifth week.

Through a legislative process called conforming, lawmakers will combine two similar bills that have both come out of the House and Senate, and are being considered by committees of the other legislative body.

On a “motion to conform a bill,” the committee will substitute out the language and replace it with the language of its own body’s similar bill, and then advance the legislation to the floor for another vote.

If the updated version of the bill passes the floor vote again, Senators and Delegates will be assigned to a joint conference committee to come up with, if possible, compromised language for the bill to then be brought back to the bodies for one final passage vote.

One Senate bill that the House Committee on Public Safety decided to conform was SB 5035, sponsored by Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield).

The bill allowed for the establishment of law enforcement civilian review boards, which have the power to investigate and issue findings on complaints against officers, inappropriate use of force and review internal investigations, among other things.

The civilian oversight panel would also be able to ask a circuit court judge to issue a subpoena against law enforcement as well as make binding disciplinary decisions in cases of serious violations of standards.

SB 5035 was conformed with House bill 5055, sponsored by Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), and reported from the Committee by a vote of 13-Y 9-N along party lines. 

Committee member Del. Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) originally voted against HB 5055 and did so again on Monday citing multiple complaints.

“That was the [bill] that mandates on every locality that they have to have an independent review commission,” Davis told The Virginia Star. “There is no financial assistants to localities to support [the oversight boards] and there is no directive given as far as what significant training should be made available to [people] that are serving on the panels.”

Davis added that he thought reform was necessary, but to not provide funding for localities during the economic downturn brought by COVID-19 was improper.

Another bill from the Senate conformed by the Committee was SB 5038.

Sponsored by Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William), the bill calls for the development of a mental health response and alert system throughout Virginia.

Under the response and alert system, a crisis call center would be able to mobilize a co-response team, consisting of mental health professionals and law enforcement, to situations where someone is having a mental health breakdown or similar episode.

McPike’s bill was conformed with House bill 5043, sponsored by Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond City), and then reported and referred to the House Appropriations Committee by a vote of 14-Y 8-N. 

Del. Ronnie Campbell (R-Lexington) said he voted against the legislation for multiple reasons.

The first being that he had spoken to mental health professionals from his district who did not support the legislation, and the second reason was he thought having healthcare workers out in the field creates an added burden on law enforcement who must ensure their safety in those situations. 

Only one other Senate bill was conformed with a House bill during the committee meeting on Monday.

Because there is no clear timetable for when the special session will conclude, there is consequently no set date for the formation of the joint conference committee, Davis said.

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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “House of Delegates” by the Virginia House of Delegates.





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