COLUMN — Special session focuses on police reform bills

Published 6:00 am Friday, September 18, 2020

Early in-person voting begins this Friday, Sept. 18.

The 59th District is composed of five counties and all information for your registrar’s office is listed below to aide you in voting for the November 3 elections. In addition to their normal business hours, all offices plan to open the last two Saturdays in October (24 and 31) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help accommodate voters.

The Buckingham County Registrar’s Office is located at 13360 W. James Anderson Highway, Buckingham. Operating hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The phone number is (434)969-4304.

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The House completed deliberation of bills that started in our chamber last week, and we will shortly begin discussion on bills passed by the Senate. It surely has been a “special” session. Below are a few of the more substantial bills that have passed the House.

HB5116: would require businesses to provide paid quarantine leave for Virginia workers.

HB5072: would authorize the attorney general to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations through the Division of Human Rights of police forces that appear to be violating constitutional rights, including unlawful discrimination. This would empower the attorney general to investigate local police departments like the Federal Department of Justice.

HB5049: would demilitarize police departments by prohibiting the acquisition and use of certain weapons by local law enforcement agencies.

HB5043: would create a statewide mental health awareness response and community understanding services (MARCUS) alert system. The system would create teams of mental health service providers, peer recovery specialists and law enforcement to help individuals in a crisis situation.

HB5090: would expand disclosure of law-enforcement criminal incident information files for closed or cold cases under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. This would allow murder scene photos and videos to be released three years after a case ends with an exception to those that identify the victim.

HB5146: would establish a process for the automatic expungement of criminal records for certain convictions, deferred dispositions, acquittals, and for offenses that have been “nolle prossed” or otherwise dismissed.

HB5148: would expand the commonwealth’s earned sentence credit program. If this becomes law, some felons will serve as little as 54 percent of their sentences. Democrats have made major changes to the bill, but it still would allow a significant number of bad people out of jail. Among the eligible criminals are those convicted for dog fighting, terrorism, felonies by mob, arson of an occupied dwelling, possession of child pornography, burglary, cross burning and other acts of hate.

HB5113: would ensure local school board participation in the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) no-cost breakfast and lunch program.

HB5030: would allow local governments and communities greater authorization in the process of removing, relocating or altering Confederate statues and other war monuments.

We are now four weeks into the special session and the House and Senate have yet to agree on a process for adopting their budgets. Governor Northam proposes that $2.7 billion be cut from the budget.

The special session began with a fight over a procedural resolution that the House adopted and the Senate rejected because the bodies couldn’t agree on the operating rules, including those for acting on the budget and new revenue forecast that Northam proposed on Aug. 18.

We have spent the last 24 days on police and social justice reforms. It is past time to begin working on the budget and we have no indication that we will be in session at all this week.

Del. C. Matthew Fariss represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is