(The Center Square) – Legislation that would make it easier to successfully sue police officers for a violation of one’s rights passed the Virginia House on second consideration Tuesday.
Under current law, officers have qualified immunity, which means an officer is protected from lawsuits that claim he violated a person’s rights unless he violated a clearly established right that any person would be aware of.
House Bill 5013 would end qualified immunity for police and open up lawsuits against officers for a deprivation of rights without the requirement to reach that standard of proof.
Supporters of the bill said it would establish a more equitable legal system, but its opponents said it would open police to frivolous lawsuits and discourage people from becoming officers.
The bill was sponsored by Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond. It passed the chamber on its second consideration with a 49-45 vote, with two abstentions, after it failed to pass on its first consideration Friday.
Bourne’s bill will head to the Senate, where it might run into trouble. Senate leadership did not include qualified immunity reform on its agenda for the special session.
After the vote, House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said Del. Michael Webert, R-Marshall, was unable to cast his vote after losing his connection with the Zoom call. This special session is the first time the House ever has recorded votes remotely, and Republicans have been critical of Democratic leadership over prospective technical problems.
House Rule 69 allows delegates who were present and not voting to be counted in the negative after the vote.
The House also passed House Bill 5072, which would grant the state's attorney general more oversight over police departments and officers. The legislation is sponsored by Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington.
Lopez’s bill would grant the office the authority to file a civil suit against police departments or officers through the Division of Human Rights if he notices unlawful patterns and practices that deprive people of their rights protected by federal and state laws.
The chamber also passed legislation that would make it easier for localities to remove Confederate monuments and other monuments for war veterans. House Bill 5030, sponsored by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, would reduce the amount of public input required before a locality removes, relocates or alters a monument.
Legislation that would require the automatic expungement of records for certain crimes advanced to its third reading with a substitute. This legislation could receive a vote as soon as Wednesday.