Local Commentary

Delegate Marcus Simon’s Richmond Report

Last week the Virginia General Assembly wrapped up one of the most special of Special Sessions in recent memory. It was special not simply because it was called by the Governor outside of our normal annual schedule. It was also the first session conducted almost entirely remotely with virtual sessions conducted by Zoom on the House Side. It was also probably the most productive and likely most impactful session we’ve ever held.

Our ability to make improvements to Virginia voting laws that made the logistics of putting on an election during a pandemic possible would have been a remarkable achievement during a “normal” special session. But this Special Session was extra special.

We also passed an ambitious package of important police reform and criminal justice reform bills, which we funded while having to plug a 9-figure hole in the biennial budget we passed in March.

Legislation — The Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) will be tasked to develop a mental health awareness response and community understanding services (Marcus) alert system throughout the Commonwealth next year under the provisions of Delegate Jeff Bourne’s HB 5043.

We finally took care of a bizarre oversight in Virginia that made us one of a handful of states where it wasn’t expressly illegal for law enforcement officers to engage in sexual activity with any detainees in Del. Karrie Delaney’s HB 5045.

We banned the use of chokeholds (HB 5069) and no-knock warrants (HB 5099) while passing a robust police demilitarization bill prohibiting law enforcement agencies from acquiring military grade weapons and vehicles (HB 5049).

My bill requiring decertification of law enforcement officers who have been terminated for misconduct or quit while an investigation is pending will keep bad officers from jumping from one jurisdiction to another (HB 5051), while other bills increase vetting and training requirements. HB 5055 requires localities to establish a law-enforcement civilian oversight committee that may investigate and issue findings on civilian complaints regarding officer conduct.

To protect consumers, we passed legislation to prohibit price gouging of goods and services during a state of emergency (HB 5047). Another bill, HB 5050, authorizes the Governor to purchase and distribute PPE to non-governmental entities during a declared state of emergency due to a public health threat.

The Budget — Because of the pandemic, we also needed to address a reforecast state budget. Unsurprisingly, we weren’t able to maintain all the funding that we originally outlined earlier in the year.

We allocated Federal Cares act funds to K-12 education to help with school reopening and virtual programs, unemployment assistance, direct aid for utility customers, Covid-19 testing and contact tracing, broadband accessibility, PPE purchasing, and mortgage and rental assistance. We also ensured that there is funding for the November election, providing for additional cleaning services, PPE, and drop boxes. While some of the CARES Act funding remains unallocated, we will be sure to utilize all the funding before the end of year deadline.

To further help utility customers, the budget extends the disconnection moratorium until 60 days after the state of emergency ends. It also establishes a universal moratorium on evictions through the end of the year. Starting in the new year, individuals will be able to apply for a Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, which will create affordable payment plans.

Over $140 million will be spent over the next two years on critical behavioral health services and DD waivers. There is also $7 million for the Virginia Federation of Food Banks.

I even had a budget amendment that came from constituent casework, which was ultimately included in the final budget. The amendment provides that the DMV must allow individuals who are 65 or over and individuals with an underlying medical condition to make all needed transactions electronically or through the mail during the state of emergency.

You can review the complete budget conference report online at budget.lis.virginia.gov.

So, although the Special Session may be going on a bit longer than we thought it might, there is no question that we are making progress in the area of criminal justice reform and that we are making the state budget stretch as far as it can. I haven’t missed a single say of the Session Special and I’ve got the receipts.