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House Democrats Unveil Criminal Justice Priorities for August 18 Session

Capitol building
(Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Virginia House Democrats released legislative priorities Thursday for the special session of the General Assembly that starts next Tuesday. The session was initially called to address budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic, but after protests over the death of George Floyd reignited conversations about police and criminal justice reform, lawmakers decided to take those issues up as well.  

Democrats in the House plan to enact changes to Virginia’s criminal justice system that would expand expungement eligibility and allow more people to get out of jail early on good behavior. They’ll also try to ban police from using chokeholds and end qualified immunity, which shields police officers from being sued.

Senate Democrats released their own criminal justice reform plan in June. Their plan does not include proposals to address expungement or qualified immunity. But House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said there’s still time to reach a consensus.  

“Hopefully we’ll have the Crime Commission endorse legislation in time for special session,” Herring said. “And hopefully with that, it will convince the Senate that these are good policies.”

Herring said that her biggest priority is addressing expungement.  

“Virginia has an opportunity now to have an automatic or automated expungement system for certain crimes,” she said. “And I think it would bring more equity to our criminal justice system.”

State lawmakers introduced roughly 30 expungement-related bills during the full 2020 General Assembly session earlier this year. These bills, if passed, would have allowed Virginians to petition to have their criminal records wiped clean if they’d been pardoned, were a victim of human trafficking or served time for other low-level offenses. But the newly empowered Democrats deferred that issue and other criminal justice reforms until 2021.