On Tuesday morning, Democrats on the Appropriations Committee in the House of Delegates revived a qualified immunity bill that was voted down the day before. The bill, sponsored by Richmond Delegate Jeff Bourne (D) would allow citizens to file civil lawsuits against police officers.
The current policy in place protects law enforcement officers for the most part unless they commit an act that is “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known”.
“Eliminating qualified immunity is not putting the thumb on the scale of justice,” said Bourne as he originally presented the bill to the Committee on Monday. “It is simply allowing victims or their families to have a full day in court and not allow a bad actor to escape accountability or responsibility by simply invoking a judge-created defense which effectively cuts off access to justice for many of these victims.”
Two Democrats, Del. David Bulova from Fairfax and Del. David Reid from Loudon voted with Republicans preventing the bill from advancing on Monday.
On Tuesday however, Delegate Reid spoke to the Committee saying his concern was with off-duty officers being included in this bill and the private businesses employing them for special duty being held liable. Bourne noted that he did not agree with removing this clause because it is directed at officers who are in uniform, noting a police officer working special duty for private businesses looks the same as an officer on duty. However, Bourne removed that section in order to help the bill pass the Appropriations Committee.
Other additions to the new bill on Tuesday included adding a two year limit on filing a civil suit and eliminating language that created protections for mentally ill individuals.
Republicans opposed the bill, citing concerns of losing qualified officers and being unable to hire new ones due to the risk they would be facing. “This is going to have an absolute tremendous, chilling effect on hiring any law enforcement officers in Virginia,” said Del. Barry Knight (R-Va Beach).
Bourne said that the language coming from Republicans as a reason to oppose this bill is the language that props up the systemic racism that they are working to defuse.
“Charges of racism in debate against any member of the Republican Caucus are something I take seriously,” said Republican House Leader Todd Gilbert in a press release Tuesday afternoon. “Upon hearing them, I immediately reviewed the tape of the meeting. What I heard was a legislative policy discussion, with two sides debating the impact of legislation. No motives were questioned, no ad hominem attacks were leveled.”
The Committee passed the Appropriations Committee on a 12-8 vote on Tuesday, advancing the bill to the full House of Delegates floor.
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