Senate Democrats release six-point plan for criminal justice reform in Virginia, House Dems plan hearings

Police fortified the Capitol after protesters easily ripped down a temporary fence erected to block the entrance Saturday. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury -- May 31, 2020)

Democrats in the Senate outlined an expansive criminal justice reform agenda Friday they say their 21-member majority has agreed to pursue during a coming special session of the General Assembly.

The proposals range from a ban on no-knock warrants to a plan that would cut state funding to local law enforcement agencies that disproportionately use force against minorities.

“Our constituents want change,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “We hear that loud and clear from them. They want policy change. They’re pretty much done with thoughts and prayers. They’re done with ‘one more discussion’ and hearing us say we’ll get it done. … They want policy change.”

The list they presented in a press call Friday lays out six policy areas and 27 bills they say they expect to pursue during the special session, which Gov. Ralph Northam has said he intends to call in mid- to late- August.

The full list includes:

1. Bringing Equity to Virginia Policing
● Prohibit No Knock Warrants (Breonna Taylor)
● Ban Sex With Individuals Arrested by Law Enforcement
● Prohibit Hiring of Officers Fired or Resigned During Use of Force Investigations
● Create a Decertification Procedure for Law Enforcement Officers
● Ban chokeholds and strangleholds (George Floyd)
● Require Attempts at De-escalation Prior to Use of Force
● Require Warnings Before Shots Fired
● Require Law Enforcement to Exhaust All Other Means Prior to Shooting
● Create Duty to Intervene by Fellow Law Enforcement Officers
● Prohibit Shooting at Moving Motor Vehicles
● Require Departments to Create a Use of Force Continuum
● Require Comprehensive Reporting by All Law Enforcement Agencies Including Use of Force Data
● Defelonize Assault on Law Enforcement Officer (Return to Misdemeanor Offense)
● Cancel HB599 Funding (Virginia supplemental funding for local police departments) After Local Police Have Disproportionate Use of Force Incidents In their Jurisdiction

2. Expand Local Authority to Respond to Mental Health and Regulate Law Enforcement
● Create Local Authority for a Marcus Alert System – System to Report Acute Mental Health Crises
● Create Local Option for Citizen Review Board Empowered to Investigate, Fire and/or Discipline Officers

3. Restore Courts’ and Prosecutors’ Flexibility to Effect Mercy
● Confirm Prosecutors’ Authority to Drop Charges
● Enhance Courts’ Ability to Expunge Charges for Dismissed Charges, Substance Convictions and Pardoned Offenses

4. Reduce Racial Profiling Opportunities for Law Enforcement
● Prohibit Searches of Person or Vehicle Based on Odor of Marijuana Without Probable Cause for Other Offenses
● Prohibit Stops for Equipment Violations Not Covered by State Vehicle Inspection
● Secondary Offense For Dangling Objects, Extinguished Tag Light, Tinted Windows or Loud Exhaust

5. Restore Equity to the Sentencing Process
● Jury Sentencing Only at Option of the Accused
● Eliminate Commonwealth’s Right to Demand Jury Trial When Jury Trials Suspended for State of Emergency
● Require Agencies to Determine Cost Savings for Introduced Criminal Justice Legislation

6. Restore Equity to the Virginia Prison System
● Allow Earned Sentence Credit for Good Behavior During Prison
● Create Discretion for Compassionate Release for Terminally Ill or Permanently Disabled Prisoners

Earlier in the day, Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates announced plans to hold three joint hearings of the chamber’s committees on courts and public safety, but said they’re still developing their own list of legislation and priorities.

“I can tell you as I listen and compile lists, there’s a number of issues that have risen to the top, including: no-knock warrants, civilian review boards, overall use of force, police accreditation, certification, community engagement policing, bias, hate crimes — just overall assessing law enforcement policies, procedures, responses,” said House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Farifax. “There’s lots of issues that have risen to the top, but we need to hear testimony.”