Somehow it’s already September and we have a lot to catch up on. Over these past few weeks, the House and Senate have deliberated and voted on a number of pieces of legislation related to COVID-19 relief, election security, as well as policing and criminal justice reform. There’s more information on this below, but I want to take a minute to underscore how important the work of this Special Session has been. This has been a hard year for Virginia, and for the nation, but I’m proud of all that the General Assembly has accomplished so far during this Special Session.
Elections Security Legislation
Last week the House passed SB5120, an election security bill that will ensure that all Virginia voters are able to vote in the November 3rd election. Governor Northam signed SB5120 into law not long after it passed the House. This legislation will:
- Formally eliminate the requirement for a witness signature on a mail-in ballot.
- Provide $2,000,000 to the Department of Elections to provide prepaid postage for the return of absentee ballots for the November 3rd election.
- Allow absentee ballots to be returned by mail, or in-person, to local registrar offices or to designated drop-off locations, like ballot drop boxes.
- Permit ballots to be sent by commercial delivery service.
- Require registrars to examine ballot envelopes for ballots received before October 31, 2020 and notify voters of any errors within three days. These voters would then be able to correct their ballots before 12:00 PM on the third day after the election.
The House has passed several pieces of COVID-19 relief legislation that are now up for consideration by the Senate.
- HB5028: Makes it easier for first responders, health care providers, and teachers who contract COVID-19 to access their Workers’ Compensation benefits.
- HB5068: Prevents creditors from seizing emergency relief payments, such as stimulus payments, from Virginians.
- HB5050: Establishes a state program through which the Governor may purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and then distribute said PPE to private, non-governmental businesses. In essence, the bill establishes a statewide PPE marketplace that will make it easier for businesses to access PPE at affordable prices.
- HB5115: Helps to keep Virginians in their homes by extending eviction and foreclosure continuance periods in court proceedings to more Virginians who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- HB5064: Requires landlords to offer a payment plan to their tenants before evicting them due to the nonpayment of rent. This provides renters who have been impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic to have a real chance at catching up on their rent payments. This legislation does not apply to landlords who own fewer than four rental dwellings.
Criminal Justice Reform
The House has been working on several criminal justice reform bills throughout the course of the Special Session, one of which is HB5062, a piece of legislation that I’m proud to have carried. It has long been the practice that Commonwealth’s Attorneys have the ability to drop charges if they believe doing so is in the best interest of the Commonwealth. Recently, we’ve seen instances in Virginia where these elected prosecutors have made the decision to drop charges because they think it’s the right thing to do, but been blocked by a judge. This bill solves that problem by codifying Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ ability to dismiss charges. HB5062 passed the House and is now up for consideration in the Senate. You can read more about it here
Another extremely important piece of criminal justice reform that just passed the House is HB5146, which establishes a system of automatic expungement for certain convictions, deferred dispositions, acquittals, and dismissed charges. HB5146 is based on the recommendations of and was approved by the Virginia State Crime Commission. This system will provide individuals who have done the work to keep their record clean after serving their time with the opportunity to live without a permanent mark on their record that can prevent them from becoming employed, finding housing, or accessing needed resources.
The House has also passed several pieces of policing reform legislation that have now been sent to the Senate for consideration.
- HB5051: Reforms Virginia’s police decertification standards by expanding them to cover officers who were fired for violating the agency’s policies and procedures (i.e., misconduct).
- HB5069: Prohibits the use of neck restraints (chokeholds) by law enforcement officers.
- HB5104: Improves the information sharing between law enforcement agencies during the hiring process to prevent officers with histories of misconduct from easily jumping between different law enforcement agencies.
- HB5109: Establishes a minimum level of training for all of Virginia’s police academies and includes basic standards for training on implicit bias, interactions with individuals with disabilities or mental illnesses, and systemic racism.
- HB5045: Prohibits law enforcement officers from engaging in sexual relations with those in their custody/under their supervision.
Before each House floor session begins, a non-denominational invocation is provided by a Virginia faith leader. Yesterday, we had the opportunity to hear from Williamsburg’s very own Rabbi Katz! I can’t thank Rabbi Katz enough for taking the time to provide us with such a thoughtful message as we prepared to begin the day’s work.
First Day of School!
Yesterday was an exciting day in households around Virginia, the Mullin household included, because it was the first day of school! The start of this school year is certainly different from the norm, but I’m incredibly grateful to the dedication of our teachers and school administrators who are doing everything in their power to make the start of this school year a success.
There’s still more work to be done during this Special Session. The House is starting to hear Senate bills and vice versa, so next week is sure to be a busy one. I’ll be keeping you updated as the Special Session continues. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if I can ever be of assistance.
Michael P. Mullin