A List of the Police Reform Proposals So Far

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

As we have discussed on this blog over the past few days, the Democrats in the General Assembly  have put together extensive and far-reaching packages on police reform. Steve Haner was considerate enough to provide a list of the Senate Democrats’ proposals, as well as a link to the package released by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

Several of the proposals of the Black Caucus are what I have called broad, “aspirational” goals. They describe the ultimate goal, but do not provide the details on how to reach the goal. On the other hand, the Senate Democratic Caucus put forth more specific proposals

For your ease in following the action, I have consolidated them into a side-by-side comparison. (It can be found here.) I took the liberty of organizing them a little bit differently than the two organizations did and of providing some comments of my own on some of the proposals.

Converting broad ideas into legislative language necessarily involves providing for definitions, contingencies, exceptions, etc. that cannot be included in a summary listing of proposals. Probably the most valuable lesson I learned from years sitting in on meetings of the House Courts of Justice Subcommittee on Criminal Laws was that even the most beneficial-seeming legislation could have unforeseen consequences. It is the job of the members on the committee to poke at the language and ferret out those potential consequences and somehow deal with them. In my comments, I try to identify some of those potentialities, but I do not pretend to have seen them all, not by any means. My primary purpose was to illustrate the complexities in drafting legislation, particularly in the public safety arena.

The Speaker of the House has announced the formation of a special committee that will consider criminal justice reform proposals in the weeks before the special session convenes. In reality, this special committee is the result of combining two standing committees—the Courts of Justice Committee and the Public Safety Committee. Although the first announcements implied there would be public hearings, apparently this is not going to be the case, due to the pandemic. It seems there will be three joint meetings of the two committees that will be open to the public on-line, with opportunity for the public to offer spoken or written comment. With 40 legislators participating, along with the public trying to get comments in, I anticipate a lot of confusion and not much resolution. At the minimum, perhaps the meetings will succeed in identifying many of the details that will need addressing.

From Sen. Scott Surovell’s comments on Bacon’s Rebellion, which I certainly appreciated, it was obvious that the Senate Democrats have been conferring among themselves considerably behind the scenes.

Just so that I cannot be accused of shortchanging the Legislative Black Caucus, its list of proposals did include measures intended to provide COVID-19 relief and protection. Because they do not relate to law enforcement reform, I did not include them in the side-by-side comparison. For your information, they are:

  • Expand protections related to housing and evictions
  • Provide rent and mortgage relief
  • Classify frontline workers as essential workers
  • Require hazard pay and PPE for essential workers
  • Guarantee paid sick leave
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14 responses to “A List of the Police Reform Proposals So Far

  1. Nevertheless, if called upon to do it, would you be willing to have been, or be, a cop? Anyone?

  2. Dick, one of the things I appreciate about your commentary, over and above your effort to be fair-minded, is your acknowledgment that poorly drafted legislation can have adverse unintended consequences. I wish there was some mechanism to follow up on legislation to see if they work out as expected.

    • Thanks. The best mechanism to follow up is to pay attention to bills amending existing sections. A lot of the time poorly chosen words or unintended consequences are the reason for the proposed amendments.

    • A high percentage of bills every year are put in to fix prior goofs….

  3. Regarding “Restrict use of tear gas and militarization tactics and weapons against civilians” —– the US Military uses semi-automatic pistols and rifles, revolvers, and semi-automatic and pump shotguns….. that leaves muzzle loading rifles and pistols for the police. This proposal has ‘Unintended consequences’ .

    • “Restrict” does not mean “prohibit”. However, your comment is a good example of why careful drafting is needed. In fact, I don’t think that such measures should be in the Code. The use of weapons and tactics should be left to the judgement of political leaders and police chiefs. If they misuse them, there will be political consequences.

  4. Yes, kudos to Dick for laying out the kitchen sink nature of the proposed legislation and I’m presuming that there are some Legislative Services folks involved to get this stuff converted from” stream of consciousness” to something more precise and explicit, workable and enforceable.

    AND I also hope the police and criminal justice professionals will actively participate and keep bad law from being written.

    I have faith that once legislative staff and criminal justice professionals sit down with the legislators that this stuff will be honed into good law.

    This is ONE STATE! We think all of this complicated and it is, but multiply it by 50!

    Good job Dick!

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    One of the things I remember from sponsoring Model General Assembly was how hard and long it would take to craft a good bill. I wonder how much of the list will be acted upon by the special session? Will the bills that emerge function well in such turbulent times?

  6. The problem is that it’s been promised for decades that we’d “fix” the criminal justice system and for some, it’s not near enough, soon enough and so they’re at the point where a “bad” bill is better than no bill in their minds.

    It’s play out in partisan ways “law and order” style…

  7. Very nice list.
    One item that surprises me is that there is not more emphasis on body cameras in the proposed legislation. I have no idea if Virginia is ahead or of the curve or behind the curve in this area, but could be part of the solution.

  8. I agree… especially when, for some reason, on some cases, the cameras were “off”, not on…

    on the legislation… I (probably naively) thought that proposed legislation was “scrubbed” by professional legislative staff…. and that included vetting for Constitutionality and conflict with existing law, etc…

    I’ve sometimes reviewed proposed legislation that is on Richmond Sunlight before the GA session and it’s clear that some needs some “work” before getting very far…….. not just police, public – safety but all kinds of stuff…

    I know also that there is once organization called ALEC that specializes in “model” legislation… but probably not for the current public safety stuff.

    • The VLBC and Democratic Senate Caucus lists are comprised of general proposals. The actual legislation setting out the statutory language has not been filed yet. Generally, the attorneys in the Division of Legislative Services prepare these bills for introduction. Ideally, they confer with the patrons to work out any constitutional questions, as well as more practical legal ones, such as unintended consequences. Sometimes a legislator’s bill request will consist of a general idea and it will be up to the Legislative Services attorney to work out the language. Other times, the patron will provide a draft bill that has been already prepared. Typically, this is the product of some interest group. Depending on who the patron is (his reputation for being open to ideas), the DLS attorney may or may not make suggestions for changes. Some legislators refuse to make changes even after DLS points out problems. During the regular session, particularly one that was as hectic as the 2020 session with a record flood of bill requests, the DLS staff was just trying to get stuff out the door. If a patron submitted an already prepared draft, it was probably met with gratitude and little scrutiny. As far as any problems were concerned, the attitude would have been, “We’ll take care of it in committee.”

  9. Dick this is a valuable service. Kudos too to Steve H. Not seen this in general news media.

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