COLUMN — Special session laws will bring changes to law enforcement

Published 6:00 am Friday, October 23, 2020

Last Friday’s budget action should be the final votes this chamber must cast on the budget until the reconvened session. Yet Democrats have still found a way to slow the process through infighting and obstinance. The revised budget is done, but it won’t be sent to the governor until closer to Election Day. 

House and Senate Democrats couldn’t agree on language in the budget that would clarify the redistricting process if Amendment 1 is successful in November. House Democrats don’t want it in the budget, Senate Democrats do. 

To break the stalemate and because the governor has seven days to act once he receives the bill, they agreed to send it to the governor closer to Election Day. He will then send the language back down as an amendment if the measure passes.

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This session has been remarkable for many things, including its length, procedural irregularities, and the legislation that has been produced. Below is a list of some of the legislation introduced by House Democrats this session.

HB 5013 — Eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement officers. This bill would have made police officers the targets of frivolous lawsuits for benign police conduct. Officers could lose their homes, their life savings, and their livelihoods, along with their job. This bill was so poorly written, and carried such significant consequences for law enforcement officers, that even Senate Democrats wouldn’t go along with it.

HB 5049 — Demilitarizing police departments by prohibiting the acquisition and use of certain weapons by law enforcement agencies. This bill was designed to take effective tools and tactics away from police officers. As it was written, it would have forbidden the use of rubber bullets or tear gas as less lethal methods in dangerous situations, causing the use of force continuum to move toward to more lethal options. As it passed, it prohibits police from acquiring MRAPs, which are often used in flood rescue. This bill makes police and our communities less safe because Democrats don’t think law enforcement should have enhanced equipment or be able to use less lethal deterrents.

HB 5058 — Eliminating certain pretextual police stops. In an attempt to end police stops for things like obstructed views and expired registrations, Democrats managed to mangle the law. As passed, this bill outlaws stops for driving with no headlights at night. This could be especially dangerous for new drivers. Democrats rushed this legislation and shut down debate.

HB 5099 — Prohibiting no-knock search warrants. This legislation sought to address an issue that rarely happens in Virginia. As law enforcement stated, these warrants are rarely used and are to protect both the suspect and law enforcement from harm. Police will now be required to announce their presence before serving search warrants only in the daytime, giving suspects time to dispose of evidence, or worse, arm themselves.

HB 5146 — Reforming Virginia’s laws related to expungement of police and court records. This bill would have created a system of automatic criminal record expungement for certain crimes. It died because House Democrats couldn’t accept anything other than automatic expungement — asking people to apply for expungement was a bridge too far. Justice does call for second chances, but it also calls for consequences. Criminals don’t get to walk away from every aspect of their pasts without putting forward some effort.

HB 5148 — Increasing earned sentence credits. This bill was monstrous as introduced, allowing some truly heinous criminals to cut their sentences by nearly half. As it passed, it is still a back-door attack on Virginia’s truth in sentencing laws. We have a low crime rate and lowest recidivism rate for a reason — our system of locking up dangerous criminals works. This bill weakens that system and will allow dangerous people back on the streets faster.

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