Democrats in the state Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced numerous House bills relating to policing and justice reform and COVID-19.
All together the committee considered 20 bills during the meeting and hastily reported 19 to be considered on the Senate Floor on Friday or sometime next week.
Despite Democrats holding an 11-person majority in the Finance and Appropriations Committee, Republican members voted against nearly every bill, except for two pieces of legislation, one of which was passed by indefinitely unanimously.
Most of the legislation considered Thursday were either similar or the same as already-passed Senate bills, meaning the arguments of opposition are not entirely new.
The Republican senators who voted against most of the bills were Steve Newman (R-Bedford), Rank Ruff (R-Mecklenburg), Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) and Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City County).
After the meeting ended, Norment told The Virginia Star that he and his conservative colleagues voted against the House bills to represent concerns from a combination of Republicans who do not sit on the committee.
Norment touched on concerns stemming from three specific bills.
The first legislation was House Bill 5029, which calls for misdemeanor or felony charges against law enforcement officers who fail to stop or intervene the use of excessive force by other officers while on duty.
“I’m not enthusiastic about that bill,” Norment said. “I think there is too much subjectivity involved in it as far as the way somebody has been trained and then a citizen complaint has been made that the officer exceeded the limits of the training.”
House Bill 5049, which prohibits state or local law enforcement agencies from accepting or purchasing military equipment, was the second legislation Norment mentioned.
Norment said his concerns over that bill came from other Republican senators who represent more rural and Southwest Virginia districts because issues of flooding and problems with terrain occur frequently where military vehicles would be very helpful.
“What you have is a citizen review board where there will be appointments by local governments and you may rest assured that those individuals who are going to be actively seeking those positions are going to be activists,” Norment said. “Specifically, take Richmond [for example]. Mayor Stoney’s record is not extraordinary in the enforcement of the law, he has been very receptive to some of the local activists yelling and screaming. That makes me uncomfortable.”
Norment expressed more concerns on the number of former law enforcement members that would be allowed to participate, the oversight bodies having subpoena power and the likelihood of board members being subject to intense public pressure to make decisions against officers.
Some of the other legislation advanced by the committee called for prohibiting no-knock search warrants, citations for marijuana possession and certain traffic offenses, class six felonies for law enforcement officers that use neck restraints and establishing a response and alert system throughout Virginia for people having a mental health breakdown, among others.
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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 “Tommy Norment” by Tommy Norment. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Amadeust. CC BY-SA 3.0.