More Legislating Through the Budget

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Since Governor Youngkin was successful in getting into the budget bill a provision establishing a criminal penalty for possession of more than four ounces of marijuana, he apparently has decided to go even  further in using the budget bill as a means to amend the criminal code without having to go through substantive committees.

The Governor’s proposed amendments to the budget bill include three provisions that would expand  existing criminal procedure and provisions related to offenders in prison and create a new felony offense.  None of the provisions has any relationship to state expenditures or revenues, which is the usual subject of the budget bill.

The provisions are:

  1. Sentence credits—Decreases the number of sentence credits (“good time”) certain offenders can earn;
  2. Rebuttable presumption. —Expands the list of offenses for which there would be a rebuttable presumption against bail;
  3. Picketing– Creates a Class 6 felony for picketing or demonstrating in or near a court or residence with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice, or with the intent of influencing or intimidating in the discharge of his or her duty any judge, juror, witness, court officer, or court employee, or any immediate family member of such individuals.

The General Assembly will take up the Governor’s proposed budget amendments when it convenes on Friday.  No matter what one thinks of the merits of these three proposals, it is a dangerous precedent to allow the sections of law dealing with crimes and criminal procedure to be amended without the proposals being heard and debated in committees especially established to deal with this type of legislation.  In this particular case, the proposals were not even considered in either of the budget committees.  The only debate possible will be on the floor of one or both houses after being proposed only a full day prior to being considered by the members.  Furthermore, the proposals must be accepted or rejected as presented.  There will be no opportunity to propose amendments to them.