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General Assembly's Special Session is a Wrap

A marathon special session of the General Assembly is now over.  But it didn't end before one last debate over a criminal justice issue.

Driving while Black. That's not a formal charge, but many drivers who are stopped assume that was why police pulled them over. Now the law is about to change in a way that may cut down on disproportionate policing, preventing cops from stopping drivers because they have something dangling from a rearview mirror because they can smell the odor of marijuana.

Delegate Rob Bell is a Republican from Albemarle County who said the version of the bill lawmakers sent the governor hadn't really been thought through.  "And it literally passed the House and passed the Senate with language that would have said police can't stop someone who doesn't have brake lights and doesn't have tail lights on the car. I'm delighted that someone somewhere along the way caught it. But for us to let that go without it being voted out of this body underlines how uncarefully the language was considered."

Governor Ralph Northam amended the bill to make it clear police can still stop drivers if their brake lights are not working. Delegate Mike Mullin is a Democrat from Newport News. "It is time that we make a real change to the way in which we treat communities of color, and I think that this bill especially with these amendments, will go a long way to being able to effectuate that."

Lawmakers approved the governor's amendments, which means the new law cracking down on pretextual policing will go into effect early next year.

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.