This past Monday, the General Assembly reconvened for one final day of Special Session 2020 to consider Governor Northam’s proposed amendments to legislation – including the updated biennial budget – passed this fall. Below is a summary of the latest changes to our budget, as well as the final package of criminal justice reform measures adopted during Special Session.
Sine Die and the Budget
Governor Northam proposed ten amendments to the Commonwealth’s updated 2020-2022 budget that the General Assembly passed last month. The House of Delegates accepted all but three of those amendments (#2, #4, and #6). The Senate rejected an additional three (#3, #7, and #8). Four of the Governor’s amendments were ultimately approved by the General Assembly: Amendment #1 will clarify that customers may remove their masks to receive grooming or cosmetic services involving the nose or mouth; Amendment #5 will allot $1 million to fund an independent investigation into the culture, traditions, policies, and practices of the Virginia Military Institute; Amendment #9 will authorize the Department of General Services to lease new locations for the Charlottesville and Smithfield DMV Customer Service Centers; and Amendment #10 lays out the policies and timeline to enact the new Virginia Redistricting Commission that voters approved on November 3.
Overall, under reduced revenues and challenging circumstances for the people of Virginia, our final budget offers a roadmap toward a safer, healthier, more just and equitable Commonwealth. However, the next revenue reforecasting process is already underway; there are only weeks before the Governor submits another package of budget amendments to us and the General Assembly reconvenes for the 2021 Regular Session. This will present another opportunity for us to revisit the budget and build on the accomplishments of this Special Session.
Sine Die and Criminal Justice Reform
Special Session 2020 was called, in part, to reform Virginia’s criminal justice system in light of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police this past summer. Though we know the work is not yet done, the General Assembly succeeded in passing a robust package of reform measures. Some of these received recommendations from the Governor and were addressed during Monday’s Veto Session. Here is the final list of reforms that we passed before Special Session adjourned sine die:
- Allowing local governments to create civilian review boards empowered with subpoena and disciplinary authority.
- Downgrading some minor traffic violations to secondary offenses, thus limiting officers’ use of pretextual traffic stops (e.g. pulling over a driver for having tinted windows or an object hanging from their rearview mirror – technically traffic violations – in order to catch the driver potentially committing other crimes).
- Prohibiting police from initiating searches based on the smell of marijuana.
- Eliminating the “jury penalty:” where defendants who exercise their constitutional right to trial by jury must also face the risk of much harsher jury sentencing if found guilty. Now, defendants will be able to choose trial by jury while judges retain sentencing power, ideally leading to fairer plea bargains.
- Creating Virginia’s first statewide code of conduct for police officers.
- Mandating racial bias, de-escalation, and crisis intervention training for police. The statewide standardized curriculum for this training will be created by a committee made up of diverse, qualified members.
- Creating a “Marcus Alert” system that will deploy mental health crisis response teams to mental health emergencies along with police.
- Limiting police use of chokeholds and requiring intervention in instances of excessive use of force.
- Allowing some incarcerated individuals to be released earlier through earned sentence credits or compassionate release.
- Demilitarizing law enforcement.
- Allowing local prosecutors to dismiss any cases they choose.
- Making false, bias-motivated 911 calls a hate crime.
- Authorizing the Attorney General to investigate local police departments.
- Authorizing the state to inspect ICE detention facilities.
- Banning police officers from having sex with detainees.
Thank you for your support. Please contact our office with any proposals or feedback for the 2021 General Assembly Session.