A Virginia House of Delegates panel voted down legislation Monday aimed at making it easier to sue police officers who abuse their authority.
The bill, proposed by Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, would have allowed people to sue in state court — an effort to side-step the judicial doctrine of “qualified immunity” that often shields police from misconduct lawsuits in federal court.
“It’s simply allowing those victims and their families to have a full day in court and not allow a bad actor to avoid responsibility by simply invoking a judge-created defense that effectively cuts off access to justice for many of these victims,” Bourne said.
Two Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, Dels. David Bulova of Fairfax and David Reid of Loudoun, joined Republicans in opposing the legislation. Neither spoke about the legislation during the meeting and did not respond to emails seeking comment Monday afternoon. Lawmakers in the Senate, where Democrats also hold a majority, voted down similar legislation in committee last week.
The votes in both chambers mean Virginia lawmakers are unlikely to address the topic again until the regular legislative session next year. Democratic leaders in the House and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus had listed the proposal as a priority heading into the special session and the issue has drawn nationwide attention amid widespread unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Police groups opposed the legislation, arguing that it would lead to an increase in frivolous lawsuits and make it harder to recruit new officers. Republican lawmakers agreed.
“This is going to have a tremendous chilling effect on hiring any law enforcement officers in Virginia where right now we have a tremendous supply and demand shortage,” said Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach.
Supporters of the bill said they found that argument unpersuasive.
“If people are not going to join a law enforcement entity because they fear they’re going to be liable for beating somebody or using excessive force, I’m not sure those are the people we want on our police forces anyway,” said Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk.