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Resolution introduced to remove legislators’ immunity from Virginia constitution

Section of the Virginia Constitution came to light after Del. Chris Hurst was pulled over for a traffic stop early Sunday morning

RICHMOND, Va. – A traffic stop may result in a change to Virginia’s constitution.

After the suspected DUI traffic stop of Delegate Chris Hurst early Sunday morning, part of Virginia’s constitution was brought to light that prevents Virginia legislators from being arrested during a session.

In an email to 10 News, Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt said, “Hurst was stopped and detained on suspicion of DUI by Lt. Stephen Swecker. No arrest was made. Under the Constitution, no arrest could have been made.”

Sen. Bryce Reeves, a Republican who represents Virginia’s 17th District, introduced SJ 87, a joint resolution on Thursday to remove the immunity of legislators clause currently present in Virginia’s constitution.

Reeves’s district contains the city of Fredericksburg, Orange County and parts of Albemarle, Culpeper, Louisa and Spotsylvania counties.

The Senate voted unanimously, 40-0, for it to be debated on the Senate floor, according to Sen. Bill Stanley.

The resolution has been referred to the Senate committee on rules.

Currently, Article IV, Section 9 reads as follows:

Members of the General Assembly shall, in all cases except treason, felony, or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during the sessions of their respective houses; and for any speech or debate in either house shall not be questioned in any other place. They shall not be subject to arrest under any civil process during the sessions of the General Assembly, or during the fifteen days before the beginning or after the ending of any session.

Article IV, Section 9 - Constitution of Virginia

Sen. Reeves’s proposed amendment would strike, “in all cases except treason, felony, or breach of the peace,” from the current document.

Along with that removal, another portion would be added, having Article IV, Section 9 read:

Members of the General Assembly shall, except upon issuance of process for arrest by a judge with authorization of the attorney for the Commonwealth or the law-enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the offense, be privileged from arrest during the sessions of their respective houses; and for any speech or debate in either house shall not be questioned in any other place. They shall not be subject to arrest under any civil process during the sessions of the General Assembly, or during the fifteen days before the beginning or after the ending of any session.

How new Article IV, Section 9 would read

Stanley, a Republican who represents Virginia’s 20th district, is supports the bill.

His district contains the cities of Martinsville and Galax, as well as part of Danville. Also in District 20 are Henry and Patrick counties, as well as parts of Carroll, Franklin, Halifax and Pittsylvania counties.

This Isn’t The First Time...

In 1997, Charles Waddell, introduced a joint resolution to change the language of Article IV, Section 9 of the Virginia constitution.

HJ 432 would have made the section read as follows:

For any speech or debate in either house, members of the General Assembly shall not be questioned in any other place. They shall not be subject to arrest under any civil process during the sessions of the General Assembly, or during the fifteen days before the beginning or after the ending of any session.

How Article IV, Section 9 could have looked if resolution introduced in 1997 was ratified

Delegate Charles Waddell was the bill’s chief patron.

The resolution was referred to the House rules committee where it was passed by indefinitely and later died.

How Soon Could This Change Take Effect?

Because this would be a change to the constitution, the joint resolution will need to be approved by a majority in both the Senate and the House of Delegates.

Then after the next election of the Virginia House of Delegates, which will be November 2021, the proposed amendment will then need to be approved by a majority of members in each house again.

After that, it can go on a special or general election ballot to be voted on by the people of Virginia.


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