Virginia lawmakers are vowing to take strong action on systemic racism and police reforms during a special legislative session planned in August.
Protests have spread across Virginia following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Marchers have called for sweeping criminal justice reforms, including an end to police brutality and racial injustice.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that state lawmakers are looking at banning chokeholds, boosting police training in excessive use of force, mandating citizen review boards to boost oversight of police misconduct, and rethinking the presence of police in schools.
"Black lives have always mattered to many of us, and we have been trying to deal with this issue for many, many, many years,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. “It’s unfortunate that it has taken these high-profile murders to get even more people energized to want to take some policy initiative.”
Lawmakers said addressing the issue during the special session — in what was supposed to be solely for discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the state's budget — is a necessity.
“There is an urgency to provide relief from what many have seen as a racist criminal justice system and its application,” said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria.
House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said the special session would include action on police reform.
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Republican leaders in both chambers have rejected calls from protesters to “defund" and “abolish” police departments.
The Senate GOP caucus appeared receptive to some reforms.
“Republican senators will be promoting legislation to improve training, increase minority recruitment and hiring, ban the type of lethal restraint that cost Mr. Floyd his life,” caucus spokesman Jeff Ryer said.
Ryer said the caucus will also promote legislation to protect police officers who are assaulted during a state of emergency, and an amendment to the state’s new collective bargaining law to diminish a union’s power to protect officers “who don’t meet our high standards.”
Gov. Ralph Northam has said he supports addressing law enforcement reform during the session but that he does not support dismantling or defunding police departments. Northam said he hoped that funding already directed to law enforcement instead could be reprioritized toward more body-worn police cameras and community outreach.