Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declined to sign into law a measure designed to discourage racial profiling of motorists by police, concerned that some language could prevent authorities from pulling over vehicles for serious safety concerns.
Northam supports nearly all of language in the bill, which was approved by the General Assembly in a special session focused on criminal justice and racial disparities within it.
But on Wednesday, he stopped short of signing the bill, which prevents officers from pulling drivers over on a wide array of equipment violations. The governor said officers must be allowed to pull over vehicles without working headlights at night or without brake lights, the Daily Press of Newport News reported.
Dana Schrad with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police had asked Northam not to sign the bill, saying there would be “more crashes and more fatalities” as a result of not being able to pull drivers over.
Northam’s proposed amendments, which will be sent to the General Assembly for approval, says officers can still stop a vehicle “if it displays no brake lights” or “if it displays no lighted headlights” at night. The bill as presented to Northam also would block police from stopping vehicles for things like tinted windows, loud mufflers and even air fresheners dangling from a rearview mirror.
The measure also would prohibit an officer from searching vehicles “solely” on the basis that the officer smells marijuana coming from the car.
Del. Patrick Hope, an Arlington Democrat and bill sponsor, said it makes sense to address unintended consequences. Hope said he spoke with Northam’s office last week about removing the language the governor opposed.
“I will certainly concede that not having both your headlights on is a public safety risk,” Hope said. “We certainly don’t want to have unsafe roads or impact public safety in any way, shape or form. That wasn’t the intent.”