VA House passes bills to prevent deaths like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- On Friday, Virginia’s House of Delegates passed bills banning the tactics that led to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The state’s Democratic majority has led the push for police reform during a special session that was called in response to nationwide protests on racial justice. House Republicans largely voted against the proposals and blamed Democrats for refusing to compromise on important policy points.

A bill banning neck restraints in Virginia was sparked by the death of George Floyd back in May. Video from the scene shows Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for roughly 8 minutes. As Floyd was pleading for help, saying “I can’t breath,” the officers surrounding Chauvin didn’t intervene.

In Virginia, the bill passed by the House would make it a Class 6 felony for an officer to use a chokehold.

Del. Ronnie Campbell (R-24) took issue with the bill, saying there should be an exception for officers in life-threatening situations. He said this change would align the House proposal with the Senate’s version, which was amended to ease the concerns of critics.

A separate bill says officers who witness “a serious bodily injury or a life-threatening condition” caused by another officer are required to render aid. It also requires them to report the misconduct, setting a misdemeanor penalty for not doing so.

House Democrats also pushed through a bill that sets a felony punishment if an officer knowingly fails to intervene when a colleague is engaging in unlawful deadly force. The legislation clarifies that the intervention has to be “objectively reasonable and possible.”

Another bill approved on Friday seeks to prohibit no-knock warrants in Virginia. It requires officers to provide notice prior to entering a home for any search or seizure.

Other states have considered the ban after Breonna Taylor, a 26 year-old EMT, was shot and killed earlier this year. Officers in Louisville, Kentucky entered her home unannounced to execute a warrant while she was asleep.

“The use of these search warrants is dangerous and it’s wrong. As citizens, we should be awarded the opportunity to be safe in our own homes and that is just not possible with the use of this search warrant,” said Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg), who introduced the bill.

Del. Buddy Fowler (R-Hanover) accused Democrats of rushing through a blanket ban without considering the unintended consequences. He urged lawmakers to defer action until the regular session is 2021.

“The main reason that we have a no-knock warrant is so that police can neutralize a very dangerous and potentially violent confrontations,” Fowler said. “I believe this bill ensures more violence and not less, which will mean more dead and wounded law enforcement.”

Aird said the Senate version of the bill still allows no-knock warrants to be issued after going through an additional approval process. She said this approach won’t prevent communities of color from disproportionately being the targets of surprise searches.

Moving forward, the House and Senate will have to settle their differences before any of these proposals can become law.

Meanwhile, a bill that would’ve eliminated qualified immunity for police officers narrowly failed after receiving a majority vote on its second reading yesterday. The bill would’ve made it easier for citizens to sue police for violating their constitutional rights.

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