Legislation Ending Session Immunity for State Lawmakers Dies in Senate Committee

Feb 4, 2021

Elected officials like to tell voters they're just like everybody else. But, they actually have immunity from prosecution during the General Assembly session.

Here's a quirk in the law about members of the General Assembly, one that most of them didn't even know about until a member of the House of Delegates was pulled over because an officer suspected he was drunk driving. Lawmakers are immune from being arrested during the General Assembly session.

Republican Senator Siobhan Dunnavant of Henrico County says that's not right.

"What we're really saying here is that our legal system is good enough for everybody else but we have to have protections from it," Dunnavant says.

Senator Scott Surovell is a Democrat from Fairfax County who says the immunity prevents people from making accusations against lawmakers during the session as an act of revenge or mischief-making, forcing lawmakers out of the Capitol and into a courthouse. He said it would be easy for someone from Tazewell to file a complaint against him after a tense telephone conversation.

"Next thing I know there's a misdemeanor warrant issued for phone threats and now I've got to go down to Tazewell to have a bond posted or some crap," Surovell explains. "That's the kind of stuff this is designed to prevent against, not holding us unaccountable."

A proposed constitutional amendment removing immunity for lawmakers was killed in a Senate committee on a party-line vote.

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