Reparations for the Violators

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Governor Youngkin has proposed reparations for people who violated legal orders.

Included in his budget proposal is a directive to reimburse all fines, fees, and interest imposed on individuals “due to violations of COVID-19 related practices, guidelines, rules or operating procedures”  and to waive all such fines imposed. The budget language earmarks a million dollars from the general fund to reimburse any such fines and fees that were paid into the general fund and directs that any fines and fees paid into nongeneral fund accounts be reimbursed from those accounts. (See language beginning on line 51 of page 579 of the .pdf version of the budget bill.)

I get it. Youngkin ran on a platform opposed to the COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Governor Northam, promising to remove them. In announcing his intention to propose reimbursement of any fines collected, he called them “unjust” and many in his base consider the COVID restrictions imposed by Northam unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, the Virginia Supreme Court refused to block any of the restrictions contained in the Northam executive orders. Therefore, the restrictions and orders were legal. That makes the individuals and businesses involved lawbreakers and the fines and fees levied were their penalty.

If we are going to get into the business of reparations for lawbreakers, why stop with COVID violators? In 2020, the General Assembly decriminalized possession of marijuana and made possession a civil offense, punishable by a fine of up to $25. The next year the legislature repealed altogether the prohibition on possession of marijuana. It follows that, if the legislature were to agree now with the governor that folks who violated legal restrictions that are no longer considered warranted should have their fines waived or reimbursed, folks who were convicted in the past of a law no longer considered warranted (possession of marijuana) should have their fines and court costs reimbursed or waived if still outstanding.