COLUMN — Democrats reject moderate police reforms
The 2020 Special Session to date has largely focused on police and criminal justice reform even though the General Assembly’s primary charge was to address the commonwealth’s budget shortfall.
As evidenced by the actions of their Senate colleagues, House Democrats have gone too far in their efforts to enact reforms and have passed very progressive legislation.
Much of their legislation is overly harsh to the good men and women of law enforcement and will make their jobs much more difficult. Given that, Republicans have offered measured approaches to the areas garnering the most attention by the media.
Republicans know that law enforcement isn’t perfect, and Virginia needs to enact certain reforms. However, any reforms need to be mixed with a dose of common sense. Unfortunately, House Democrats refused to listen and instead decided to listen to only the most vocal, far-left members of their base.
Their reform package, in contrast to much of what we saw from the Senate, went further than common sense, thoughtful reform.
Republicans proposed decertification for any officer fired for abuse of power or dishonesty (HB5133). Unfortunately, House Democrats refused to listen to common sense and wanted to immediately ban any police officer who was fired for any reason — including minor uniform infractions — not just abuse of power or dishonesty.
HB5134 would require a law enforcement officer who witnesses another law enforcement officer engaging or attempting to engage in the unlawful use of force against another person to intervene, when intervention is feasible. The Democrats would never even give this legislation a hearing.
House Democrats ultimately passed their version of “duty to intervene” that goes too far in criminalizing officers who are deemed to have failed to intervene. Like the Senate version, Republicans supported going through the decertification process in these instances.
The use of body cameras was also an area where Republicans proposed a measured approach (HB5135). This would have directed law enforcement agencies to develop a written policy for when the cameras needed to be activated. The Democrats never allowed this bill to be heard.
Republicans put forth legislation to implement de-escalation training (HB5128). This would have directed law enforcement agencies to establish policies for de-escalation techniques, including for the use of force continuum and neck restraints. The bill also never received a hearing.
Republicans also supported common sense reforms of things like neck restraints and no-knock warrants. Both should be used rarely, and only in true emergency situations. For example, an officer stuck in a life-or-death struggle on the side of a road shouldn’t become a felon for using a neck restraint.
Police need the element of surprise when moving in to arrest certain suspected and known criminals, such as an armed and dangerous fugitive or child sex trafficker. Yet House Democrats again refused to even consider these common sense exceptions, instead going for complete bans that would penalize the use of these tactics even in life-or-death emergencies.
Other issues like civilian oversight boards could be beneficial, provided they are implemented with common sense. For a small-town police department with one or two officers, the oversight board would be larger than the entire force. In situations like this, review boards should be optional — a position supported by Republicans.
Republicans also insisted that review boards include representatives who have some law enforcement experience — or training for those members who don’t. Yet House Democrats refused to consider this common sense idea and pushed on to create boards where it’s possible that no member has ever even ridden in a police cruiser.
After nearly two months of inaction, House Democrats finally roused themselves to address the commonwealth’s $2.7 billion budget shortfall this week. The end result, while not all bad, demonstrated clearly that Democrats have chosen sides in the conflict between law enforcement and criminals.
Republicans gave Democrats ample opportunity to redeem themselves in the form of common sense amendments, but Democrats instead chose to shut down debate and defeat Republican suggestions.
Last Tuesday’s session left no doubts — House Democrats have chosen to side with criminals instead of law enforcement and crime victims. Despite finding more than $250 million in new funding for programs — including tens of millions to make life harder for law enforcement — Democrats voted to defund our local police departments by $8.6 million (482.20 #2h). They voted to block a pay increase for sheriff’s deputies and regional jail employees (477 #2h).
After spending nearly two months attacking law enforcement and calling for reform, Democrats turned their nose up at a plan — Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission Accreditation Grant Fund — that would actually help smaller agencies improve (403 #1h).
This initiative would help smaller police departments further professionalize and gain accreditation.
Democrats also showed their true colors regarding the Virginia Parole Board, choosing to continue in the cover-up of serious problems at that agency. They voted to allow killers who refuse to tell police where they dumped the bodies of their victims to be released on parole, while victims’ families have no closure (429 #1h). They voted to allow the parole board to continue releasing violent felons while keeping their votes secret (429 #2h).
Democrats also showed they were more interested in their bank accounts than the people they represent — voting down a proposal to cut their own expenses for virtual sessions (1 #1h). They voted to keep receiving a $210 expense payment for commuting from their bedroom to their couches for virtual sessions.
Democrats also turned their back on parents and students struggling with virtual education (479.10 #1h). Despite the majority of classrooms in Virginia being virtual, Democrats allowed less than 10 minutes of discussion of this critical issue. They voted to block parents from accessing $100 million in unspent federal CARES Act funding to help students and families adjust to virtual learning.
Even worse, they voted to let anonymous strangers answer your children’s questions about sex and sexuality — without any parental involvement (301 #1h).
We appreciate all the calls, letters, and emails we have received over the last few weeks. I hope you will continue to contact us if there is any way we can be of assistance. You can reach my office at (434) 696-3061 or DelTWright@house. virginia.gov.
DEL. TOMMY WRIGHT can be reached via email at DelTWright@ house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.