Budget Differences: House and Senate Include Justice Reform Funds
The Virginia House of Delegates and Senate have set aside millions of dollars in the updated state budget for criminal justice and policing reforms. The Senate finalized its version of the state budget late last week, setting up negotiations between the two chambers in the weeks ahead.
Governor Ralph Northam called the General Assembly into a special session that convened in August to re-evaluate the budget in light of the pandemic. Virginia faces an estimated $2.7 billion budget shortfall. Lawmakers put criminal justice and policing reforms on the agenda after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police prompted nationwide protests.
The past few weeks, the House passed criminal justice reform bills that will cost $28.4 million over the next two years, while the Senate budget includes $14.8 million for reforms.
The Senate far outspent the House, however, on justice system-related items. Senators included about $24 million for courts, corrections, probation and services for people returning to the community after completing their sentences.
The Senate budget also has about $18 million in bonuses for law enforcement and an additional $9.5 million for more public defenders. Delegates didn’t set aside funds for either of those items.
Both chambers passed legislation that would allow for some people to have their criminal records thrown out, but there are big differences between the two measures, including the cost. The House budget includes $14 million for legislation, introduced by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D- Alexandria), that would make criminal record expungements automatic after eight years. The Senate version, introduced by Sen. Creigh Deeds (D -Bath), costs around $1.2 million and requires incarcerated individuals to petition to have their records expunged.
While budget talks are ongoing between the two chambers, Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) who sits on the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, said they will formally convene to hash out the differences late next week.
“I think, particularly on the spending side, it's less complicated because we're only dealing with a limited number of issues here. So it's not as comprehensive as what we normally have,” Barker said. “It is a little more complicated just in terms of logistics because it's not as if we were full time down in Richmond right now.”