CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Delegates and state senators are preparing to go back to Richmond in August for a General Assembly special session that will at least partially address police reform, a topic which has set off demonstrations in central Virginia and nationwide.
The session was originally supposed to address the budgetary impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn tweeted on June 11 that the session would tackle the criminal justice reform issue in the wake of protests across the country.
Charlottesville-area delegates Rob Bell (R-58th District) and Sally Hudson (D-57th District) may be on opposite sides of the aisle, but both have already been in talks with constituents and colleagues about the proposals they’ll put forward to address the issue.
Hudson, a freshman delegate, has not had a boring start to her career in the General Assembly. A bill which she co-sponsored, allowing localities to remove or recontextualize their Confederate monuments, passed and is paving the way for cities and towns across the commonwealth to do so starting on July 1.
Now, she returns to Richmond for her second special session of the year. One focus for her will be expungement reform, addressing the criminal records associated with uneven policing in communities of color.
“Recognizing that the black and brown community has been overpoliced, overcharged, over-sentenced," Hudson said. "That means that, when they return back out into our jobs and our housing markets, that they often carry with the records that stop them from thriving.”
Bell, a veteran of the General Assembly, has served in the House of Delegates since 2002. He says that he and fellow Republicans have also been discussing legislative proposals to tackle policing reform, and says something must be done.
He points to enhanced use-of-force training, outlawing techniques like choke holds, and introducing a decertification process to prevent police officers fired for use-of-force infractions from getting jobs at other departments, as bills that he think would receive bipartisan support. Taking investigations for use-of-force violations out of the hands of police is another measure he would back.
“I think that there’s training for departments that are really trying to do the best they can," Bell said. "There are those, though, like what we saw in Minneapolis, where it’s not a matter of training. It’s a matter of having independent, thorough, investigation and prosecution.”
Bell draws the line at defunding the police. Defunding departments, or abolishing police entirely, has become a rallying cry for protesters nationwide.
“People want the police to do better, work better, be more effective,” Bell said. "Those are things where I think there will be broad consensus. I think where the rallying cry becomes an effort to defund the police is not something that I support.”
Bell explained defunding police forces is not something he supports, or something he thinks would pass. That’s where he and Hudson disagree.
“When people talk about defunding the police, what they’re really saying is, ‘what if we took the resources that we’re currently putting into armed law enforcement and redirect them toward other programs that might more directly address the concerns that those programs are aimed at?’” Hudson explained.
Case in point, school resource officers, Hudson says. The use of armed police officers in schools has become a hot topic in central Virginia, and is a practice Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools are ending, or have discussed ending. Bell does not support those measures, either.
“That’s certainly something we’re hearing about,” He said. “That’s not something I support.”
The exact date for the special session has not yet been set.