Virginia lawmakers expected to address police reforms

Posted at 3:21 PM, Jun 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 17:22:06-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Lawmakers are expected to address reforms to law enforcement when they meet for a special session later this summer.

The topic of the session is the budget, but the top Democrat in the House of Delegates says reforms will also be addressed. "We WILL move forward on legislation to address police reform in VA in the special session this summer," House Speaker Del. Eileen Filler-Corn wrote on Twitter.

Following police violence in cities like Louisville and Minneapolis, discussions over reforms have reached Virginia.

"My biggest fear is that we don't have this conversation openly and honestly with each other and we fail to act because we don't want this to happen in our state," said Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk).

Jones is proposing legislation that would make it easier for the families of victims of police violence to sue localities.

Currently, localities have protection under a legal framework called sovereign immunity, which requires plaintiffs to prove gross negligence. Jones' proposal would make law enforcement an exception to sovereign immunity. "I think that's going to help police think twice about what type of force is necessary in their interactions," he said.

Local governments are also making changes. This week the Norfolk City Council directed the City Manager to change police policies, including banning high speed chases unless a case involves a felony that's led to serious injury or death.

The ACLU has also weighed-in, calling for a reduction in funding to police and more transparency.

Gov. Northam said he doesn't support "dismantling" police during his press conference on Thursday and responded to a question about defunding the police. "When we talk about funding, I think we really need to talk about reform and the priorities of how we spend the funding," he said.

State Republican leaders made it clear they don't support defunding the police. A spokesman said they're still having discussions about possible proposals. "House Republicans will work to make sure our law enforcement professionals have the resources and support they need to do their jobs," Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah).

Del. Jones said he doesn't think most people would support defunding law enforcement. "We want to make sure they have tools in their tool kit to properly assess these situations and handle these situations, but I think defunding the police is probably not the approach most folks are supportive of," he said.

Jones noted how these discussions have already led to changes, including the removal of the statue on top of Norfolk's Confederate Monument.

"I think there's more to come and I'm happy that this conversation is ongoing," said Jones. "I'm glad that black and white Americans, and everybody else, are really having these honest dialogues with each other."