RICHMOND, Va. – Legislation aimed at making it easier to sue police officers for misconduct in Virginia was revived for a second time Tuesday and approved by the state House of Delegates.
The bill sponsored by Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, would allow lawsuits by people who claim police have violated their constitutional rights to move forward in state court, ending the qualified immunity that often protects police from liability. The legislation had been killed once in committee and once on the House floor before winning approval Tuesday.
Del. Ibraheem Samirah, a Democrat who voted against the bill on Friday, asked the House to reconsider. Samirah said before the vote Tuesday that he originally voted against the bill because it had been watered down during committee. Samirah said he wants to see the bill amended so that communities that are unwilling to reform their policing systems should not be allowed to participate in the same insurance risk pool with communities that are making reforms.
“Removing qualified immunity without also preventing law enforcement agencies on a local level from utilizing, directly or indirectly, taxes collected from all Virginians to protect law enforcement in lawsuits only makes the systemic problems of policing at the local level worse,” Samirah said.
House Republicans had argued that the legislation would make it more difficult to recruit police officers because it would expose them to civil liability for doing their jobs.
The bill will now go to the Senate, which has already rejected similar legislation.
The immunity bill is one of dozens of criminal justice and police reform bills being considered by the General Assembly during a special session called by Gov. Ralph Northam. Many of the proposals have gained momentum since the May 25 killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
Also on Tuesday, the House advanced legislation that would automatically expunge some misdemeanor and felony convictions after eight years of good behavior.
The bill sponsored by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, would restrict access to such criminal records, but would not seal them entirely.
Crimes covered under the bill include minor larceny, disorderly conduct, trespassing and some felony drug charges. It does not include sex crimes and violent felonies.
Under current law, Virginia does not allow for the expungement of any criminal conviction.
Herring called the legislation a “bill of redemption” and said it would give thousands of people who have made mistakes a second chance. She said having even a minor criminal record can have long-lasting effects, including making it difficult to find employment and housing.
Republican Del. Leslie Adams said he believes the legislation has not been thoroughly considered and said the legislation should be delayed until a full legislative session next year.
The House is expected to take a final vote on the bill later this week.