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Criminal justice reforms front and center on day two of special session

Published: Aug. 19, 2020 at 10:07 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - Criminal justice reform was back in the spotlight Wednesday, as the special session of the Virginia General Assembly continued in Richmond and online.

The House of Delegates held a brief virtual session, but members of the Senate returned to the Science Museum of Virginia for committee meetings and Wednesday’s floor session.

Several Republican senators highlighted controversial decisions by the Virginia Parole Board and proposed legislation they say could undermine the ability of police officers to keep their communities safe.

“You know it’s like a bad DC Comics movie,” said Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham County). “We’ve got rioting in the streets of Gotham, so what do we do? We turn out the Joker, the Riddler and the Penguin all at the same time.”

Democrats responded, saying they are not talking about releasing violent offenders.

“We are talking about thoughtful, evidence-based ways to reform our prison system,” said Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax County)

Legislation approved in committee will likely win approval when it comes to a full vote on the floor, but not without more debate.

“When it comes to items like defunding police, or if it comes to items that are going to make the rioting worse, and our communities less safe,” said Senator Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg), “the Republicans are saying, we’re going to stand up and say no to that.”

“All of us were horrified by the murder of George Floyd and that created the reason why we are here,” said Senator Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County). “And that’s a very good reason to examine how we police in the Commonwealth of Virginia, how we make sure that we protect the rights of those accused of a crime. But at the same time, I think our Republican caucus is entirely focused on protecting the victim as well.”

“We’re working closely with the chiefs of police, sheriffs, state police,” said Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke), “to make sure they have standards we all agree with, we have certification and de-certification standards with regard to police to make sure that Virginia’s police are acting in a model way.”

The State Senate is making progress on its legislation, but the House of Delegates won’t be voting until Sunday at the earliest.

So it’s still unclear just how long this special session will last.

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