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Several Criminal Justice Reform Bills Quickly Pass Through Senate Panel


Lawmakers are back in Richmond, and they’re already taking action on reforming policing.

Only a few hours into a special session on criminal justice reform, members of a Senate panel already passed a broad policing reform bill. It bans no-knock warrants, limits the use of chokeholds, mandates de-escalation training and requires police departments to collect race and ethic data for all traffic stops.

Senator Scott Surovell says the bill has support from law enforcement agencies because it sets out a clear path to get rid of bad cops. 

“The bill as drafted makes it a lot easier for law-enforcement agencies to get bad officers, get them off the street and make sure they don’t have a badge again in the state," Surovell explains. "And a lot of the standards set forth in the bill are best practices that are followed by accredited law-enforcement agencies. And so, it raises the bar for professionalism in the state.”

One thing that’s not in the Senate bill is ending qualified immunity, which would allow people to sue officers for wrongdoing.

Delegate Mark Levine says the House of Delegates is likely to send a bill on the issue over to the Senate. 

“We need to reform qualified immunity so that when a police officer acts in ways they know to be unlawful, they can be sued,” says Levine.

The Senate bill has made it through one hurdle, but it still needs to get through the Senate Finance Committee. That’s where lawmakers will determine if they can find enough money to pay staffers at the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to develop a code of conduct and handle new decertification cases.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.