This has been an unusual summer for Virginia’s part time legislators as we’ve been working hard to help our constituents navigate the new reality that is life during a pandemic. From helping navigate the Virginia Employment Commission, to requests for eviction relief, to simple things like getting a car title to complete the private sale of car, nothing works the way it used to, the way it should, or as well as we would all like it to.
Add to that, the recent demonstrations and demands for reform in the way we police our communities and administer justice and punishment, the budget impact of our shut down and multi-phased reopening and, for many of us, new leadership roles. For me, my part-time job as a legislator feels more like full-time and a half occupation.
Not that I’m complaining. I’m incredibly fortunate and privileged to be in a position to help my community navigate our way through these troubled times, and look forward to continuing the work we started in January to build a Virginia that works for all of us.
To that end, the work will get even more intense as the 2020 Special Session gaveled in this week, with the House meeting at the VCU basketball arena so we could conduct our business safely and at a social distance.
The House Democratic Caucus released our list of legislative priorities earlier this month, and they reflect our focus on meaningful criminal justice reform and continued relief for individuals and businesses affected by Covid-19. In addition, we’ve laid out a blueprint to support our teachers and students as they begin a new school year and to reinforce our health care system.
Although our 2020-2022 State Budget won’t quite look the same as it did earlier this year, we continue to prioritize funding for broadband access to support K-12 remote learning, invest in higher education, enhance telehealth opportunities, safeguard the integrity of the November election, and extend housing protections for the most vulnerable during this pandemic. The reforecasted budget will also include additional funding for any of the criminal justice reform and police accountability measures that we pass during the Special Session.
As a member of the House Courts Committee, I participated in all of the joint public hearings that we did with the House Public Safety Committee over the past few weeks. We heard valuable testimony from experts in the field, advocate groups, and members of the public, which directly impacted the legislation introduced during the Special Session.
Covid-19 Relief: I was proud to have successfully worked to get Senator Barbara Favola’s paid sick leave bill passed in the House of Delegates in March, only to see the State Senate change their mind at the last minute and let it die as the clock ran out on regular session. With all we’ve experienced during the pandemic, I was pleased to see it at the top of our agenda to revisit during this Special Session.
Other worker protection measures will include a presumption of workers’ compensation for first responders, teachers and other high-risk essential workers who contract Covid-19, prohibit price gouging for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and create a Commonwealth Marketplace for purchasing PPE to protect essential workers and all Virginians.
Criminal Justice and Police Reform: During our recent public hearings, we heard from an overwhelming number of constituents who want meaningful, progressive criminal justice reform. This includes allowing records expungement of certain crimes, increased good sentence credits, allowing increased prosecutorial ability to dismiss charges, and prohibiting no-knock warrants. We’ll also ban the use of chokeholds, create a statewide Marcus Alert system, prohibit the of certain military-style weapons, and ban sexual relations between officers and arrestees.
We’ll increase police accountability with legislation to strengthen laws related to Citizen Review Panels, to eliminate qualified immunity, to standardize trainings for all police academies, and to mandate reporting and intervention during the misconduct of another officer.
To stop problems before they start, we’ll strengthen the vetting required before hiring a law enforcement officer as well as require decertification of officers who fail to properly perform their duties.
Making Virginia More Equitable: Earlier this summer, the Governor declared that June 19th would be a state holiday. During the special session, there is a bill introduced to make Juneteenth an official holiday every year. We will also offer local governments greater latitude in the process of removing Confederate statues and other war monuments.
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov